Cheers to making connections!

*NOTE: This post was inspired by a Facebook post by our friend, Roger Montti, aka Martinibuster, Linkbuilder extraordinaire and professional conference attendee.

Last week, five of the WrightIMC crew headed southbound on I-35 to Austin. Our purpose? Attend and present at the regional PubCon conference. For those of you not familiar with PubCon, it is a series of conferences focused on digital marketing – SEO, Affiliate Marketing, Paid Search, Analytics, Social Media.

If you want to see a general recap from the conference, you won’t find it here. That’s not what I want to write about. Besides, there’s so much great content shared at these conferences that it’s impossible to create a concise and coherent recap. If you want recaps, go read all the Tweets for the #PubCon hashtag. You’ll see a ton of great advice – and a few bits of advice that might not be as great. But you see, that’s the great thing about conferences.

I’ve been going to conferences since I convinced my boss to send me to Search Engine Strategies in Dallas in 2000 (I think?). I remember how cool it was to be among a crowd of people who actually understood my obsession with search engines. But, I also remember coming away a bit disappointed. Nothing in the conference sessions was new. I was (and still am) a voracious reader of all that is Internet marketing. I had heard a version of everything the speakers were saying at the conferences. I’m not saying I knew everything – I actually knew less than I thought I did. But, I didn’t go to another conference for a year or so.

My second Search Engine Strategies (again in Dallas) was different. It was actually just a few weeks after the attacks of 9/11. The conference was not well attended ( I think that’s one reason it has been hard to get major SEO conferences back to Dallas, yet I digress), but I did one thing different. Instead of going home after the conference, I went out with the attendees and speakers. I remember going to a bar in Dallas’ West End with several of the speakers. The conversations were mainly about normal, mundane stuff. Then the alcohol began to flow, and the conversation became more interesting. That day, I truly started to learn advanced SEO, despite having done it for three years prior. And, I made friends that helped me.

Over the years, I can’t tell you how many conferences I’ve attended – everything from Ad-Tech to local Interactive Marketing Association events in small Michigan towns. I’ve spoken and given advice, listened and received advice, and thrown back drinks with the best minds in the business. As we all get older, the drinks tend toward Perrier more than straight whiskey (not always, but sometimes), but the fact remains the same – I go to conferences to keep a pulse on the interactive marketing industry. Notice I didn’t say SEO industry. We’ve all graduated and lines have morphed. It’s now all marketing. If you don’t keep up – you will be left behind.

I have friends all over the world because of the conferences I have attended. I’ve stayed in people’s homes that I’ve only met at a conference. I’ve met their families. We’ve become real-life friends. At PubCon New Orleans, my wife Kathy will be speaking about her success promoting her photography business on Facebook. It’s her first speaking gig. And, I pushed her to do it – mainly because I want her to experience the friendships I’ve experienced at conferences.

Actually, to an extent she already has, every time one of my conference friends comes through Dallas. That’s not to mention the ones that live here (and Dallas has the BEST conference goers and most awesome speakers – not that I’m biased).  I try to take turns bringing my employees to the conferences (I can’t afford to bring everyone), and I truly encourage them to apply for speaking slots. Even if they don’t drink, I encourage them to hang at the bar and go to the parties. That’s where the best knowledge comes from.

Personally, my favorite conference is PubCon – just because I feel it generates the most raw information. But, I love the other conferences, too. The Search Marketing Expo (SMX) is very polished and has the most advanced information of the conferences I attend. Search Engine Strategies (now ClickZ Live) is awesome for people new to the field and a great place to meet potential clients. And, it’s a ton of fun. Ad Tech, E-tail, Shop.org, all the ClickZ conferences, and many others are also great. One thing they all have in common is that the best information is gained after the session. Don’t hole-up in your hotel room after the conference day is done. I’m talking to you, brand marketers!

Because we believe in the networking at conferences so much, WrightIMC has been sponsoring (and is continuing to sponsor) the after-parties at the PubCon conferences. It’s not only about getting our name in front of more people, but it’s also about giving back. We’ve received so much from our time hanging out with brilliant people in bars after conferences, its only fair that we buy them – as well as the up-and-comers – a few drinks.