Danny Sullivan Speaks on SEMPO Controversy

    July 30, 2004

Last year’s SES San Jose marked the launch of the Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization, commonly known as SEMPO. Now, with the one-year anniversary rapidly approaching and the 2004 San Jose conference just days away, critics are stirring up controversy. In a recent article, Michael Grehan dared to criticize the organization. “Who needs SEMPO?” the Smart Interactive CEO asks.

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SEMPO Gets Caught With It's Hand In The Cookie Jar...
SEMPO Gets Caught With It’s Hand In The Cookie Jar…

Even as early as August 2003, SEMPO’s future looked promising in a growing industry. Its board of directors, chosen by Barbara Coll of Webmama.com, included Fredrick Marckini, Brett Tabke of Webmasterworld and Danny Sullivan of Search Engine Watch.

Although the board is undeniably impressive, Grehan has created quite a scandal. For instance, “SEMPO has approved a $1,500 per week stipend to Ms Coll,” Grehan reported. “This amounts to a salary of $78,000, to fund a part time effort from someone who already has a full time job running a SEM business.” He also brought up the point that the board was self-appointed, rather than elected by members.

“Rustybrick” said on Webmasterworld that as a member of SEMPO’s education committee, he was completely unaware of Coll’s salary. The information was “shocking” to him, especially as Barbara Coll herself has stated that SEMPO’s Board of Directors are unpaid volunteers.

After Grehan said the board members should resign and accused SEMPO of being “unconstitutional” on Jill Whalen’s forum, Danny Sullivan gave a public response:

“Barbara’s stipend was approved on May 15 and she began drawing it on that date. She began taking it because she also assumed a second hat, that of acting executive director, in addition to her role as president.”

Danny insists however that there were already plans to announce this information at this coming Monday’s SEMPO meeting before Grehan ever wrote the article.

While “things do change,” Danny believes the important issue is not in Coll’s stipend but in the fact that SEMPO members were unaware of the change. “I would guess that the founding documents for SEMPO give the board members the right to do this. But not keeping the members informed of major actions like this, yep, that’s a failure.”

But is this issue deserving of its hype? One Search Engine Watch member said, “I do not know Ms.Coll at all, but if that’s a SEMPO
business decision who are we to make controversy out of it? Obviously Ms.Coll is very qualified for the position. Whether she has another full time income is irrelevant…”

Jeremy Goodrich believes Coll deserves payment for her SEMPO work. “I happen to know [some board members] and in my honest opinion they should be getting some serious money since they hopped on board and in many ways legitimized the whole thing.”

“Personally, I would have no problem at all with paying a good salary to a professional executive in the field,” Grehan said in response to such statements. “My problem is with the way that this motion to grant a sizeable stipend was carried out behind closed doors (as seems to be the way with SEMPO) and with no consultation with the membership at any level.”

Danny is in favor for elections of future board members, more group focus and strengthening the level of communication between the members and the board. He said SEMPO plans to begin the search for a new executive director to hopefully be elected by December, so that Coll can step down from her current position and only act as chair of the board.

Other items of information that will be discussed, Danny says, include the posting of financials on the member website, current and upcoming budgets, income, accomplishments and shortcomings, an upcoming SEM advertising campaign and a current research project.

“There appear to be 10 people criticizing SEMPO for every one defending them,” Andy Beal pointed out. “No one wants to see SEMPO go down the toilet, but they do want to see reform and an organization that truly represents EVERYONE in the SEM industry, not just a select few.”

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Brittany Thompson is an administrator for WebProWorld.com and contributes to the Insider Reports with her regular articles and interviews.