In late November, a good friend of mine, Christine Churchill contacted me to ask if I wanted to be nominated as a director of the Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization (SEMPO), which at the time of writing is the closest thing we SEO's have to a trade association.
A long time ago SEMPO got themselves into a bit of a flap because they had incorporated themselves as a Non-Profit, but then proceeded to break almost every rule known that non-profits are supposed to follow. It was a real mess. Christine, one of the hardest working and most well meaning people I know, knew that I was pretty much the only SEO *she* knew with a legal background that might be helpful, and she somehow sweet-talked me into joining and helping sort out the mess.
I learned a lot, going through the paperwork and dealing with the behind-the-scenes politics and personalities. I also discovered that although SEMPO is, in my opinion, fundamentally broken, there are a lot of very good people who joined it because it's clear the industry needs a trade association.
The problem is that SEMPO is designed to cash in on big bucks sponsors and SEO firms. Key members have even stated that small SEO firms are "not their target audience".
To me, that was unforgivable. Small SEO firms and single SEO's working in IT departments form the vast majority of this industry. How can you claim to be an industry association if the industry is not your target audience? I have it on good authority that Google and Overture agree with me on this one.
So when Chris asked me if I wanted to be nominated as a director, my first instinct was to agree, and work from within. The problem is that the major people who were supporters of the "little guy/gal" had resigned (like Chris) or were not planning on renewing their memberships - effectively a slow motion, passive resignation. The remaining executive was heavily linked together, and even though there were many really good people who were nominated as directors, I had a sinking feeling that I could predict the "old guard" retaining control, just reorganized.
In the meantime, I had been quietly working away in Calgary, Canada trying to form the Internet Marketing Association of Canada. I'd got some interest from some high profile members like KS2 (Yellowpages.ca), Critical Mass, Anduro, Telus, and a few others. But I was concerned about membership levels being able to support the costs of running an industry group with just Canadians. Small country, but big ideas
Chris mentioned that AdWords expert Andrew Goodman (a fellow Canuck) had tried to get together the SMA-CA and had difficulties getting the initial membership levels. Now, the SMA - That's an idea! Take everything good about an industry group, add in effective, fair structure and a genuine concern for the industry rather than fund raising and you have the SMA.
The original SMA was designed as a reaction to SEMPO being out of touch with the rest of the world. Although it claims to be an international body, it's very much a USA only club with a few foreigners thrown in for good measure (a result of following the dollars and sponsors instead of the members).
A clear example of this was when they formed the European committee without, for example, any real input from any, you know, Europeans. Then acted surprised when there were huge objections to it's structure and purpose.
Many very high profile members form the UK (the second largest SEM market in the world) decided that enough was enough. Led by Barry Lloyd, Andy Atkins-Kruger, Paddy Bolger, Richard Gregory, Edward Cowell, Colin Irwin, Simon Collingridge, Jason Cartwright, Ammon Johns, and Mike Grehan, they formed the SMA-UK. A lot of thought went into it, and they deftly avoided the scandals that had rocked SEMPO repeatedly (link-gate, selfpromotion-gate, etc).
Shortly after the success of SMA-UK, the SMA-EU (European Union) was formed, with members Mikkel deMib Svendsen, Ben van den Bergh, Shakil Khan, Alix Jalon, Vincent Israel, Thomas Bindl, Laszlo Fazakas, and Sante Achille.
While talking with her about this, I had what I think is a great idea - form the SMA-NA (North America). After all, we have NAFTA to balance the EU - why not? This solved the membership numbers issue and the USA only issue in one stroke, and also addressed the opportunity to avoid the rot that had already set in with SEMPO.
Christine put me in touch with Mike G and Barry L., and I was invited to fly out to London on Dec 21 to a meeting between a couple of members of the SMA-UK and the founding members of the SMA-EU. The purpose of the meeting was to formally kick off the SMA-EU, and I attended as an observer. This was very interesting to me because the EU is pretty hetrogenous compared to the UK and I was very interested in how they would deal with issues such as multiple languages, vastly different legal systems, etc - since these would be issues in North America.
The meeting went really well and meeting everyone was excellent. I was even able to make the occasional useful comment and observation, though mostly I listened.
I've now come back, and am forming the SMA-NA. Just before I hit the "make new group" button on Yahoo Groups to launch the beginning of the working group, I phoned up Barbara Coll (SEMPO President) to resign. Since I was a member of the election committee, I felt (and Barb vehemently agreed) that it would be a conflict of interest for me to be a committee member in SEMPO while starting up the SMA-NA.
Although the majority of the conversation was confidential, it was made very clear that SEMPO considers the SMA-NA to be a direct threat and a competitor for membership and sponsor dollars. Interesting that the SMA-UK and EU were not considered the same way. To me, that really confirmed the regional blinkers SEMPO wears. The concern about the money rather than the industry was also very interesting. Although it was mentioned that the industry would be better off with only one group (I agree BTW ) this was mentioned in direct relation to funding.
She also repeatedly demanded the names of the others on the SMA-NA working group. Since they had not been confirmed yet, I didn't answer, but the message was clear: SMA members were not welcome in SEMPO. Pity. Personally, I think that all support of the SEO/SEM industry is a good thing, and I'd rather someone support SEMPO than not support anything. I guess they don't see it that way.
It seemed to me it was kind of like if the Red Cross said that you can't donate to UNICEF - it's one or the other. Odd - I thought the goals were more lofty than membership fees. Perhaps for SEMPO the goal of helping the industry is at odds wth the goal of getting funding. A telling point, in my opinion. It certainly clear my mind of any doubts as to whether I was doing the right thing, I'll tell you that!
We now have a working group for the SMA-NA. In view of the threats by SEMPO and the very real desire of many members of the working group to contribute to the industry as a whole regardless of venue, I'll let them list themselves. It's pretty clear that key people are interested in leaving the sinking ship, though.
So that's what I've been up to. There is more SMA information here from Threadwatch, which for some reason I've become quite fond of
Some additional (Mostly SEMPO related) links for your viewing pleasure:
http://www.sempo-tahoe.com/ (Joke Site)