SearchFest 2013: A Battle of Brilliant Proportions

By Max Thomas

We value learning highly at Thunder SEO. So much so that Thunder pays for transportation, lodging and daily expenses for any Thunder Cat who gets accepted to speak at a conference. We’ve been fortunate to have awesome folks from Thunder speak at SMX Social Media Marketing, West, East, Advanced and even London.

Likewise, Thunder SEO has sponsored at least two “Cats” per year to attend MozCon since 2009. We’ve also sent team members to SearchFest, Online Marketing Summit, Distilled’s SearchLove conference, and Interactive Day San Diego (okay, okay, IDSD is just down the street…but still). Up until now, I’ve personally selected who attends which conferences or consulted with the executive team to decide who should go.

However, when it came to select Thunder Cats for SearchFest 2013, Shawn suggested that we try something new, and hold a friendly competition for anyone interested in attending. With Monique’s help, we put together an internal contest to select the lucky attendee.

Here’s the email announcing the contest:

Hi Everyone!

Thunder has two (repeat, two) tickets to this year’s SearchFest 2013 in Portland. What’s more, Thunder will send two representatives this year, including air fare and lodging. This is a first for Thunder to send two Thunder Cats to SearchFest (wahoo!).

One of the representatives will be Georgia. This is for many reasons, the largest of which is that she’s a rockstar at Thunder and hasn’t been to a major conference yet. It’s high time she attends one.

“It’s only one day. Is SearchFest really ‘major’?”, you ask.

Yes it’s short … and very sweet. The speaker line-up includes super smart folks like Adam Audette, Rand Fishkin, Ian Lurie, Duanne Forrester, Jonathon Coleman, Conrad Saam, Darren Shaw, Greg Sterling and many others.

What’s more, it’s in Portland (yay!).

Rather than “select” the second representative, it’s been suggested that we try something new and hold a little friendly competition.

If anyone thinks they could benefit from this conference, please submit an explanation of (i) which session they’re most excited for, (ii) how they plan to apply what they might learn at Thunder and (iii) how they can help contribute to the SearchFest conference (as a Thunder rep). Bonus points for what their plans are while in Portland (trolling for tips here…smile).

I’ll review the submissions to narrow them down to two choices, and then we’ll have an internal vote to pick the final representative.

For this to work, it needs to be completely anonymous. As such, there’ll be a box on the conference table. Please drop off your printed explanation in the box by 5pm on Thursday 1/10/13. I’ll have the final two submissions ready on Friday so that we can vote internally and have the second representative decided by EOD Friday 1/11/13.

IMPORTANT: Give your submission a memorable and compelling title. Do NOT use your name. We’ll use the titles for announcing the final two submissions and voting for the second representative.

The internal vote will be via SurveyMonkey. As such, the submissions will still be anonymous as we’ll see only the title and explanation. In addition, SurveyMonkey doesn’t show a current tally of votes. We won’t know the winner until voting ends at 3pm. If there is a tie, then I’ll decide with a coin toss. (Brilliant science…I know.)

Are you excited? I hope so! Are you motivated? Excellent — then good luck!!!

Thank you all,

As you can tell, it was high time Georgia attended a great conference, so it was decided she would go by default. That left one opening for a second rep, hence the contest.

With the goals of submission defined, the “box” for people to submit their anonymous entries was prominently placed on the conference table.

On Thursday at 6pm, I took the box home and found 4 entries. As I explained to everyone, they were all fantastic submissions. It was hard to pick two so I decided to evaluate them using the criteria outlined in the original email, resulting in the following two finalists:

I then had to get them into digital format so they could be imported into SurveyMonkey. With a little research I found Prizmo which enabled me to take a photo of the entries using my iPhone and convert the photos to text. It worked! Prizmo is awesome.

Since the survey went out 7am on Friday morning, I decided to reveal the final tally at the end of the Friday all-hands-on-deck innovation meeting (a brainchild of Monique’s who was inspired by this post on innovation by Mackenzie Fogelson). With everyone watching (and having not peeked myself, except to confirm that everyone had voted), I pulled up the final tally:

As you can see the winner was “B) Put a “Thunder SEO” on it – Anonymous SearchFest Submission #?”. Since entries were indeed anonymous, we weren’t sure who the winner was, BUT given we’re a close-knit bunch, folks had their suspicions. Turns out the winning entry was Monique (Congrats, Monique!) who soon updated her Twitter status:

To which Georgia responded:

And then the awesome folks at SEMpdx chimed in:

This was our first time to use a friendly internal competition to pick who would go to a conference (that a Thunder Cat wasn’t speaking at). By holding a contest, our goals were to have those folks who are most interested in going put themselves forward, as well as encourage people to think about what they would get out of attending a conference.

We’re still getting feedback, but overall we think our first try at this was a success. We plan on doing it again for the two Thunder Cats who attend MozCon 2013 with the added twist of asking someone from outside of Thunder to choose the finalists (rather than myself). I think that would help “raise the stakes” (in a fun way), and also make it that much more objective. If anyone has suggestions on who would be a good candidate, please let me know in the comments, or send us a tweet.

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Max Thomas

By Max Thomas

Max Thomas is ThunderActive’s founder. He loves new ideas, laughing, shoes, personal style, and art.

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