Interview with Laura Roth and Anna Lee Organisers of SES Conference

Being an event organiser of Search London,  I appreciate a lot of work goes into organising big conferences such as the one I recently attended – SES NY.  I met Laura Roth and Anna Lee while I was over in New York and wanted to ask them a few questions on what it is like running one of the largest search marketing conferences in the industry, SES.

SES Content Gals

1) How did you get into organizing events?  And how long have you been on board with SES?

Laura: After graduating I was looking around a graduate fair and checking out companies looking for graduates and I came across the role of a conference producer. As it included research, marketing, content, events it sounded like an interesting and diverse career to go into so I started from there. I have been on board with Incisive Media who produce SES for over 4 years (a couple of years in our London office working on related brands) and have now been working with the SES team for just over 2 years.

Anna: I started out my career in public relations but quickly realized it wasn’t for me. I stuck with it until an offer to be an event coordinator came my way and then I jumped at the opportunity. I worked more from a logistical angle but there was definitely some creativity involved and those were the bits that I loved the most. So when this opening to work on the content team for SES came about, I was really excited to be a part of it. I’m only 2 weeks away from my one year anniversary with SES and its parent company Incisive Media – time sure flies!

2) How far in advance of a conference do you need to begin booking the venue, contacting speakers, writing the content for the conference etc.?

Laura: When it comes to booking our venues, this is done by our Operations team and timings vary. Sometimes we have venues booked out years in advance and other times it’s more like 9 months to a year out.

Regarding writing the content for the conference and contacting speakers – we tend to do this about 3 – 4 months out from an event but sometimes it’s earlier – it can depend on resources and the schedule, as well as how large the event is. It’s a tough balance as for marketing purposes it’s always great to start earlier and have speakers and content to put into the marketplace at an earlier time – that said – in our industry as things are changing so fast that’s not always an advantage as we are often adding key new content a few weeks out from an event to make sure we are always staying up-to-date with industry changes and new trends. So sometimes we may find we add a new session or speaker just a couple of weeks out to make sure we are addressing the latest issues affecting the industry.

Anna: We always do what we can to put out the best content possible, even if it’s a last minute late-breaking topic. However as a general rule of thumb, especially if you have an idea for a new session, it is much preferred if you submit early on if you can. Our agendas are constantly being updated in real-time and they tend to fill up quickly.

3) Can you outline some of the key steps when organising SES.

Laura: For the content team our key challenge is always ensuring that we are providing the best quality and level of content we can to our attendees. It’s certainly got harder from how the brand used to be when it was purely based on search engine strategies, and then even when social came into play. Now that we are looking at all things digital and focusing on so many things beyond just search and social like mobile, video, local, RTB, programmatic, display etc it’s a harder balancing act from our end to get the content spot on for our attendees.

So we are constantly researching and immersing ourselves in digital marketing to ensure that we always have the latest content at our fingertips for the next SES agenda.

For our team our key steps include:

Research, Staying up-to-date on industry developments, networking, writing in-depth agendas, finding new speakers, analyzing submissions, coming up with new and creative concepts for sessions or networking ideas to enhance the user experience, social media marketing, working closely with our cross-functional team on the brand and marketing messages (delegate sales, sponsorship sales, marketing and operations teams), speaker selection, speaker liaison, and onsite delivery.

Anna: Laura has summed it up perfectly!

4) What do you do if speakers cancel at the last minute (through no fault of their own) Do you normally have a list of reserve speakers?

Laura: There are always occasions when things happen beyond your control and this has happened to me a few times in the past. At SES we do have a list of speakers in our heads and on paper who we can go to near the time if someone has to pull out for any reason. (We actually had this happen a few days before SES NYC and were able to find a replacement from our list within a few hours) If it happens really last minute onsite we also have options for people who can usually fill in to help us out – the main thing is always to remember to make sure the delegates don’t miss out on key content.

Anna: We’re not only lucky enough to work with some of the highest caliber minds and speakers in the industry, we also have some of those we can depend on when situations arise last minute. As Laura mentioned, it’s about the delegates and the content so it’s great we have those stars we can count on in a pinch.

5) How do you find good speakers?

Laura: There are many ways we find good speakers at SES. Firstly via submissions – many people submit to speak at the show so we find them that way. Also – we are constantly immersing ourselves in the industry both at other events and online so we find many speakers that way too. We also work with our editors at ClickZ and Search Engine Watch to find new speakers as they are often talking to people who are experts in their subjects – this is particularly useful as we continue to branch out the content of SES from it’s purely search roots into all aspects of digital marketing. We also often get introduced from an existing speaker or contact to other speakers – this is a great way to find new speakers as “good speakers often know other good speakers!” So we are constantly on the lookout for great speakers to add to our agendas.

6) There are not as many female speakers in the industry as there are males, how do you encourage more females to speak at SES?

Laura: There has been a lot of talk about this recently in the industry and it’s an issue we are certainly aware of. There are certainly less female speakers around which could be for a number of reasons – but we have made lots of extra steps recently to encourage more females in the industry to get involved with speaking. Both Anna and I have been involved in a few recent studies by aimClear on female speakers in the industry and do our best to put the word out that we want more female speakers – the main point here is that we need more females to submit!

At SES New York recently we had a number of new female speakers speaking for the first time at SES involved which was great! We also (as you know ) hosted our first ever Female Speakers dinner for the “ SES Chicks” which was very well received and went a long way to making female speakers feel more confident and a part of the SES community. It’s something that we are certainly looking to build on – and will hopefully in the future open out to all females at the event and host other events throughout the year – it’s these kind of initiatives that I hope will have a positive effect on encouraging more females to speak at SES.

SES Girls Night for SEO JO Blogs

Anna: While gender does not play a factor in our speaker selection process, we cannot stress enough that we’d love more women to submit and bring their best “A” game. Laura and I are putting the word out (here, and we’ve both participated in separate studies on this subject for aimClear, for example) and we will continue to do so. Our endgame is to fill our agendas with the most kick ass content and the most bad ass speakers, whether they be male or female. But people need to submit!!

Laura also mentioned the SES Chicks Night, which kicked off at SES New York 2013. It was not only a blast, it was a great opportunity for women to come together, show support for one another, and feel truly part of the SES Community. I still chuckle when I think about some of those #SESChicks tweets – good times, good times.

7) The industry is constantly changing, how do you ensure your topics are relevant to these updates?

Laura: It’s always a balancing act to make sure we include all the key topics that are still relevant and have been for years, together with new and current topics too. In the content team we live and breathe digital marketing everyday so we are constantly consuming content from around the web on industry blogs like Search Engine Watch, ClickZ, Toprank etc. We are also very active across the social platforms – mainly twitter and find that a great source of what’s going on everyday in the industry – I’m often reading the latest developments in the industry from links in tweets from key influencers in this space. Also – via other events, networking, speaking to our advisory board and others in the industry, and just generally always being on the lookout for new developments.

8) What is the biggest SES conference and where is the next city you are branching into?

Anna: The largest events we do are SES San Francisco and SES New York and we’re excited to be heading to Canada this summer for SES Toronto!  We are looking into expand into other areas around the globe so there are exciting cities on the horizon – certainly watch this space and our site for these and more.


Thanks Laura and Anna for organising a great event and sharing your tips on SEO Jo Blogs.  Hope to see you at one of your events soon, you should come to Sydney !

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