First published July 30, 2009 in Mediapost’s Search Insider
As I said last week, I’m in the mood for a little reminiscing, so today, I’ll be sharing the story of my first industry event and how I met iProspect’s founder, Fredrick Marckini.
Bound for Beantown
It was 2001 before I attended my first industry trade show. As you might imagine, doing SEO in a small city of 120,000 people in Western Canada, our ability to “talk shop” with anyone who had the slightest clue what we were talking about was limited. The idea of being in a room with a few hundred other SEOs was mindboggling, so we checked our corporate credit card limit (our primary source of financing) and I was soon Boston-bound for SES.
The goal for the show was to “get to know people in the industry.” I had a “hit list” of industry notables I was instructed to make contact with. I staked out hallways and skulked around the doors leading into the sessions with the intention of “bumping into” Danny Sullivan, Chris Sherman, Detlev Johnson, Marshall Simmonds, Bruce Clay and, yes, Fredrick Marckini. I swear to God, I had an actual list and would put tick marks beside names when my mission was accomplished. Each day I would phone back to the office in Kelowna to report my success rate.
SES Here I Come!
Industry events in 2001 (the show site is still live) were not quite like industry events today. I’m not sure what the official total attendance was, but it was in the hundreds, not thousands. Everyone from the show could fit in one moderately sized meeting room for lunch, and there was still room left around the perimeter for the “trade show floor,” which consisted of six or seveb folding tables with vinyl banners hung behind. One would think, given the relatively intimate nature of the show, meeting my “targets” wouldn’t be that difficult. However, I had two things going against me: First, I’m not the most social of animals. I’m the guy who’s awkwardly waiting just outside the “conversation cluster” at most networking events, waiting to be noticed. Small talk has never been my forte. And secondly, search isn’t the most visual of industries. I knew the names of the people I wanted to meet, but I had no idea what they looked like.
Nevertheless, with persistence and dumb luck, I worked my way down the list, having less than memorable (on their part, not mine) introductions with Danny, Chris and Detlev. But one name on the list remained unchecked. Fredrick Marckini proved to be remarkably elusive. Fredrick was one of the few stars of the industry: a regular columnist for ClickZ, author of not one but three books on search marketing and the founder of iProspect, the most successful search agency in the industry. I sniffed the winds of the Boston Marriott Copley, determined to bag my prey before I headed back to Kelowna.
The Smell of Desperation
My opportunities were rapidly running out. But on the last day, a small glimmer of hope! I was chatting in a hallway with another attendee and he mentioned that someone from iProspect had given a fascinating presentation on keyword research in the session he was just at. With only the slightest hint of a tremor of excitement, I asked if Mr. Marckini was in attendance.
“I think so. He was standing near the back.”
I literally vanished before the guy’s eyes, rushing down the hallway to the aforementioned conference room, hoping that Marckini would still be lingering in an after-session chat. I burst into the room, but alas, it was empty. Dejected, I wandered out, deciding to make a quick pit stop at the nearest men’s room.
Note: For the squeamish, the next passage is slightly tasteless but essential to the story, so please forgive me.
While standing at the urinal, I was carefully maintaining the unwritten rules of men’s room etiquette, staring intently at the featureless tile in front of me. I became aware of a presence beside me: fairly tall, dark blue suit, dark hair and glasses. I turned my neck the tiniest fraction of an inch, to allow discreet scanning with my peripheral vision. I think..yes., yes…I’m sure! According to the best description available to me, Fredrick Marckini was at the next urinal!
But what to do? You simply don’t introduce yourself at a urinal, especially when there’s still directly relevant business to be completed. Timing was essential here. We had to finish at the same time. So, by imposing a not inconsiderable degree of biophysical control, I managed to reach the sinks simultaneously with Fredrick. But still, there was awkwardness to contend with. At what point is it okay to initiate social contact? Pre-rinse, mid-rinse or post-rinse? The specter of time ticking away drove me to recklessness. With hands still wet and soapy, I threw caution to the wind. It was now or never!
“Fredrick? Nice to meet you. I’m Gord Hotchkiss from Search Engine Position [our name pre-Enquiro].”
Our hands tried to grasp in a firm, manly handshake, but the soapiness made it more of a slippery glancing blow.
“Oh. I know about Search Engine Position. You guys do great work!”
My respect for Fredrick as a charming gentleman started at that moment. Not only was he gracious to a wild-eyed and soapy stranger, he actually invited me to be his guest at an Overture dinner that night. It’s been awhile since I bumped into Fredrick at an industry event (I think SES Toronto a few years ago was the last time) but it’s still one of my favorite memories.
You’re a classy guy, Fredrick!