A Man Who Changed Lives…Or, At Least, Marketing Spend

It has been a week since Danny Sullivan of Search Engine Watch and Search Engine Strategies fame has moved on, yet many are still struggling with the fact. Sound a bit melodramatic? Perhaps. Yet I would feel remiss in not dedicating this edition of SearchBuzz to last week’s event.

SEW Editor, 1996-2006

So why exactly do people love Danny so much? Perhaps it is because he plays fair in an industry where low shots are common.

“Danny is the consummate gentleman,” said Fredrick Marckini, CEO of iProspect.

Fredrick, of course, was a panelist at the very first SES show in 1999, and continues to be an active voice today.

The ability to appeal to a broad audience has directly contributed to his personal success, as well as that of SES and SEW.

Danny makes “the arcanum of search accessible to the beginner, while offering information and perspectives valuable to experienced practitioners,” said Amanda Watlington of Searching for Profit.

Welcoming beginners from day one was a smart move. As the industry grew and changed, Danny remained the sole constant to guide loyal readers through it all.

And this is precisely why the question “What will Danny do?” is really a question of “Where do I go now for search help?”

Andy Beal of MarketingPilgrim.com confirmed this sentiment, noting that Incisive Media “failed to see that the majority of those loyal to Search Engine Watch and Search Engine Strategies were, in fact loyal, to Danny Sullivan.”

Danny has suggested that he is open to starting a new entity, contemplating any one of a flood of offers or even contracting with Incisive Media on a one-off basis. While the decision is intensely personal, one cannot avoid the obvious: Danny’s path will directly affect who chooses to attend SES, speak at SES, exhibit at SES or sponsor SES.

One search engine employee and frequent panelist I spoke with suggested that the SES conference is definitely at risk: “My guess is that the show will peel apart at the speaker level– the good speakers might follow Danny.”

There is a recurring question of how many people will need to leave before dollars follow.

Rand Fishkin of SEOmoz said that we will know very soon as “well-known voices and faces (blogers, podcasters, speakers, etc.) will at some point in the near future be forced to make decisions about where their loyalty lies and which venues/outlets (online and off) will provide the most value to their businesses.”

While the engines are likely to support the show in the near future, I am most certain that other sponsors and exhibitors are considering a spend freeze until things settle down.

The Body Isn’t Even Cold Yet

While we wait for Danny’s answer, there is also a second, somewhat uncomfortable question: “Who will get his job?”

Chris Sherman, associate editor at SES, seems like a likely internal candidate. Given that there are enough egos in this industry to sink a ship, perhaps the better question is “Who will be gunning for Danny’s job?”

Kevin Lee, executive chairman of Did-it, suggested that “there will likely be a scramble as notable industry pundits and experts try to be the next ‘Danny.’ The reality is no one can replace Danny.”

And this is precisely why Incisive Media made the decision it did.

Adam Gross, vice president of marketing of The Jordan, Edmiston Group, the media investment bank that handled the acquisition, said, “Danny was an important part of Incisive Media’s acquisition of Search Engine Strategies from Jupitermedia, since he was the name and face of the shows. However, I think that it makes sense for Incisive to move in another direction, because too much reliance on one person is never good for any business.”

This suggests the possibility of a completely different strategy, such as forming an advisory board, à la ad:tech.

How Will We Go On?

“Search engine marketing will stop growing. Now that Danny’s out of the picture, everyone will just quit trying this search stuff and go back to banner ads.”

This is what an unnamed SEM personality and columnist wrote me, clearly in jest. I am sure Danny would agree that search itself is not in peril.

In an e-mail, he reminded me of the brilliant Mark Twain quote with a twist: “The rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated. I’m departing SES and SEW, not the search marketing world.”

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