SEM Canada Reaches Out

    June 10, 2008

Organizing an emerging search marketing conference series is difficult. Beyond the choice of topics and speakers, there are a range of structural and financial issues to be worked through, public relations to be conducted and marketing efforts to be undertaken. Competing with a growing number of other conferences, gatherings and seminars, new search marketing shows have to climb a slope steeper than most.

The organizers of the SEM Canada conference scheduled for the 4th and 5th of September in Calgary Alberta are quickly learning how slippery that steep slope can be. Having secured an “A” list of speakers including Alan K’necht, Jane Copland, Todd Friesen, Ken Jurina, Cindy Krum, Bill Slawski, and Richard Zwicky, SEM Canada is now struggling to fill the most important seats in the conference, the audience.

According to conference organizer Laura Callow, local interest from Calgary and Edmonton is booming with several large companies in two of Canada’s most prosperous cities booking space for their staff. International attendance numbers, which are vital for the conference’s success, remain a hurdle as ID requirements for international travel are confusing for some US residents and high fuel surcharges have increased the costs of traveling. To bolster local support and turn that support into hard cash, SEM Canada is organizing a Test-My-Site taster conference.

Timing might also be an issue with many search marketers having already shelled out a couple grand to attend Search Engine Strategies San Jose, scheduled a mere two weeks earlier. To complicate the timing issues, the show is scheduled for the close of the Labour Day long weekend, a time when many are rushing to get their kids back to school or their bodies and minds ready for the coming shopping season.

In order to promote sales, SEM Canada is offering readers an enormous discount on the early bird rate. Until July 7, registrants can purchase a full, all-inclusive 2-day pass for only $695, down from the original early bird rate of $895, similar to the discount already offered to SEOmoz Premier members.

The promotion had better work. SEM Canada’s organizers have already booked the venue, hired staff and secured the right technology to make their conference a truly great show however if they are unable to reach break-even by August 24, they might be forced to cancel the show.

Cancelling the show would be a shame. The organizers have gone out of their way to set up a great conference line-up ranging from the basics of SEO to advanced link-building and development content. With sessions covering social media, mobile search, analytics and Universal (blended) search, SEM Canada could provide a good starting platform for SEM penetration into a market that remains relatively untapped.

From the standpoint of a business developer, attending SEM Canada makes financial sense. Those who participate in the SEM Canada conference are likely to find a larger pool of potential customers than those attending similar SES or SMX events. There are few search marketing conferences held in Canada and the event in Calgary is the only multi-day conference on search marketing in western Canada. With a stable resource based economy, western Canada is the only part of North America seeing sustained economic growth at this time. The business market in western Canada, while served by amazing local talent, is still wide-open for search marketers to enter. There simply aren’t enough of us up here to satiate the growing need for effective search marketing.

It would be a sad and dispiriting outcome if SEM Canada was unable to go forward with the conference as planned. Organizers have already had to ask some speakers to relinquish the offer of free-flights due to the unpredictable costs now associated with airfares. In order to make up for having to rescind the offer of free-airfare, organizers are offering the free exhibition booths to the speakers who originally confirmed their attendance. The cost of those booths is coming out of organizers pockets but stands as a graceful act of apology. The offer of free accommodation at the Calgary Sheraton for speakers still stands.

In an email sent to speakers, show organizer Laura Callow wrote, “I never wanted SEM Canada to be an SES or an SMX, I just wanted to bring SEM to the rest of Canada. I would love you to come. If I can in anyway contribute to pay your airfare once we have broken even on expense, I will do so.”

SEM Canada is a conference that should happen. It faces similar challenges as did the ill fated Vancouver PPC Summit though in this case, organizers appear to be trying to get ahead of the curve by communicating with the community before giving up on the conference. It will be a far more intimate show than SES San Jose or the SMX East conference scheduled for one month later in NYC, giving attendees a chance to meet and really get to know some of the most influential names in the industry. It will also be a successful show, at least from a biz-dev standpoint, for those who attend.

Organizer Laura Callow added one last personal message for anyone interested in attending SEM Canada. “Please also ask your subscribers to contact me personally via email to put their names down on our hotel discount list I will call them back after they email me, or they can call me on 403-714-6170. We like the personal touch. Well I do…”  Let’s hope the personal touch works. The SEM Canada conference could be highly beneficial to the entire search marketing industry.