Mike Grehan says...

Random musings about search marketing, flying around the planet, networking and people watching.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

And finally, Beijing.

I popped back to Beijing to catch up with the folks at Microsoft's Advanced Technology Center. This is where Jingyi heads up her team. She really is an extraordinarily clever woman. Very kindly, she invited me to join her for dinner at Beijing's most popular Peking Duck restaurant.

She ordered the most exquisite banquet and we sat and discussed... algorithms, for ages! Now that's what I call my kind of company ;-)

The wonderful Katia Melua sings: "There are nine million bicycles in Beijing..." It's tue. And most of them were parked outside my hotel!

I had some spare time earlier in the day. So I took a cab out visit the Great Wall of China. I mentioned earlier that rarely do you get to be in your own pictures. But a Chinese art student I met (sketching the wall) very kindly offered to take a shot. I think she captured the moment perfectly.

And the wall snakes its way over the mountain tops.

And in the same way, the tourists snake their way along the wall.

There are some odd things you see along the wall. "What do you mean, I'm on the wrong continent?"

At one point, I spotted a wonderful Chinese building and my eyes lit up with delight...

When I realized it was Chinese pub!

I travel all over the world. And in just about every country I'm in, you can almost guarantee that I'll bump into my friend and fellow world traveller, Bill Hunt. Just so it didn't look like he and I were in a tourist shop in Soho, London, Bill came up with a good idea to identify the location. And then he and I had a late lunch. Typical. I don't think we've ever shared any time together in our own respective countries!

And that's China over for another time. Back again later this year.

Next week it's Munich. And that means five conferences in four weeks. Not bad going, even for my own pace.

SES Nanjing.

Much as I had to retrospectively blog ad:tech Shanghai last November, same applies for SES Nanjing. Yes, Blogger is still blocked in China. So there's most likely quite a bit of retrospective blogging about the SEM community this week.

I had a nightmare start to the event. Having been on the road for weeks before it (SES New York, ad:tech, Dallas) I had to swiftly pop back into the UK for a one day event in London. Strategically, this wasn't so much of a bad thing, really. One problem that I always have is that, my passport is always with me when I'm travelling, so there's often no time to apply for visas.

I spoke with a London based agency specializing in visas to China who said they had a same day service (costs a fortune, of course!). So, I thought I'd drop my passport and application form in first thing in the morning and then collect it on the way back to the airport. The London event was on Tuesday afternoon and I was flying to China from my home city of Newcastle via Amsterdam on the Wednesday. It meant the visa thing was tight, but it was the only way I could do it.

So, you have no idea how stunned I was when I got a call from the agency, mid afternoon at the London event, to tell me that the Chinese Embassy wouldn't be releasing my passport until the following morning.

That certainly blew my plan out of the water!

So, there was nothing else for it. I had to fly back to Newcastle on the 8.00 pm flight from Heathrow which I had originally planned to do. But then I had to get out of bed at 4.30 am the following morning and fly back to London to go to the Embassy myself to pick up the passport.

Then, I'd catch a flight from Heathrow to Amsterdam and hopefully, all being well, hook up with the flight to Beijing that I had originally booked.

Fortunately, plan B came together with military precision. And later that afternoon, by the skin of my teeth, I was relaxing upstairs on a 747, sipping a well deserved glass of champagne and breathing a huge sigh of relief. Whew!

This was not the end of the saga though. After a very long flight, I arrived in Beijing at 10.30 am local time. My connecting flight to Nanjing wasn't until 1.00 pm so I drank litres of black coffee to try and stay awake as I had not slept at all well on my flight from Amsterdam.

When I eventually did board the Nanjing flight, I had one of those wonderful "small world" events. As I sat dozing in my seat, I felt a hand from the seat behind tap me on the shoulder. It was my friend Eddie Choi, from Hong Kong, who was also heading to SES. This was great for a number of reasons. In the main though, it meant I had someone to share a cab with from the airport. And also someone who could speak both Chinese and English fluently.

So I drifted in and out of sleep for about 90 minutes until we landed. Straight out of the airport and into a cab we went. Coincidentally, Eddie and I were both staying at the same hotel. So I was delighted that I was heading directly to my room and bed.

I suddenly began to realize, after a long time that, it seemed to be taking even longer to get downtown Nanjing from the airport than it did to get from Beijing! It was 5.00 pm when we eventually got to the hotel. And there was a speakers cocktail and networking event at 7.30 pm. But I just had to get some sleep. When I got in my room, there was a problem with my internet connection. I called the front desk and they said they would send an engineer. I also asked if they could send housekeeping as I had a suit and some shirts which needed pressing.

I then realised what the problem was with the internet connection and fixed it. I called the front desk and told them the engineer wasn't required. And then, I fell exhausted on the bed. Having been on the road for weeks and in so many different time zones, I was wrecked.

Just as I slipped into the land of nod, there was a knock at the door and in walked the engineer to fix the connection. Much as I gesticulated to let him know that I had fixed it, he still felt that he should check it over anyway.

He left and I slipped back into bed. No sooner had my head hit the pillow than the door went again, this time in came a woman form housekeeping to collect the items for pressing. And yes, she needed a check list and a signature. Off she went. Thank God I thought, now maybe I can get just half an hour before getting ready for the speakers reception.

I was certainly asleep. And I was dreaming that there were two Chinese men in my room at the foot of my bed. As I slowly woke up, I turned and looked at the foot of my bed. And sure enough, there were two Chinese men looking back at me. One of them had a room key which he was waving at me and seemingly trying t tell me that I was in his room.

However, I was the one on bed - not him. Therefore, sorry pal, this is MY room!

They both left with their suitcases and just as my head hit the pillow again, my alarm went off. Yes, time to get ready for the reception. Oh no. I was just sooooo tired.

Shak sent me a txt to tell me he's arrived at the hotel directly from Shanghai, so we arrange to meet in the lobby. I do the rounds and shake hands with friends old and new and eventually make my excuses to leave. I head back to my room desperate to get some sleep. I switch on my computer to have a quick email check and… Outlook flags up the reminder for the deadline of my ClickZ column. Oh no. Oh please, no!

I write two paragraphs and that's all I can manage. I write a short note to Erin, my editor and beg for a little extension to the deadline. I then climb into bed and do the perfect impersonation of someone who is clinically dead for the next few hours.

In the morning I awake, rattle off my column and head for a cab to take me to the conference centre.

This is a large exhibition and conference centre.

One of the things I loved about China, last time I was there, was signage. I mean, why have a building with a dull old entrance, when you're offered the opportunity to slip into a...

The elevator provides an excellent do and don't guide. No skipping in this elevator and flammable crack is most certainly out of the question.

My first session is moderating a panel on keyword research. The first presenter is from Microsoft. He delves deeply into how an inverted index is built. But says nothing about keyword research. Another panellist owns an agency and explains how he can get a better ROI than any of his competitors. But hardly touches on keyword research or research tools at all. Finally, the Google rep gets up and does a pitch for AdSense. And no, he didn't mention keyword research either.

In the evening it was Google's turn to entertain. I caught up with their keynote speaker and President of Sales and Business Development, China. I had breakfast with Johnny Chou in Shanghai the first week he took the job on. So naturally enough we got together at the Google dance for a beer and a catch up.

The following day my session is the usual link basics presentation, followed by a strategy presentaion by Marc Maculua. I'd never met Marc before and this was his first time presenting. At SES. He was good. Very good. And his preso had a lot of excellent takeaways. Yes, I'll work with Marc again, anytime. And yes - here's my usual pic for the audience to link to.

Our session was so dynamic that one member of the audience became overcome with emotion as mine and Marc's presentations were just too much for him.

Later we went to lunch. I just clipped Ian McAnerin's head on this shot (on the right). Ian and I don't get much time to hang out. But at this show we had a good old catch-up. At the top of the table is Marc Macalua. Also in the shot is Miles with his lovely wife Sirinee, both next to Ian. On the left at the front of the shot is Mikio Matsuo from Nokia. And I can't for the life of me remember the name of the other guy (sorry!).

When I was in Shanghai last year, I met a remarkable young lady by the name of Jingyi Xu. She is a scientist par excellence and largely responsible for the development of a huge chunk of MSN's AdCenter. She is also a complete babe, and very huggy. We have become close friends.

Here's a picture taken by Marc Macalua, who, like many in China (although he is from the Philippines, not China) smokes at any opportunity. As you can tell, he used this as a method of creating a special effect for this pic of me and Jingyi ;--)

I took a little time off on the afternoon of the final day of the show to have a little look around Nanjing. It's different city to Shanghai and Beijing, that's for sure. Our hotel was named after the lake which is the focal point of the city with it's islands and parks.

The hotel which we're in has circular restaurant on the 20th floor. It looks right over the lake. It also provides an interesting view of the China contrast. Poverty and great wealth living side by side.

And here's a pic of the hotel and it's circular restaurant from the lake.

I bought a ticket and took a look around the lake and the park through the traditional Chinese gate.

At weekends, the good folks of Nanjing take a relaxing walk through the park or take to the water (regardless of the weather it seems!).

The park and lake are very scenic. Of course, when you're the one taking the shots, rarely could you ever be in them!

I've been aware for some time that many things are banned in China. But I never realized that trumpet playing was.

Okay, Beijing next.

Lucrative search engine marketing.

This was a one day event in London organized by Revolution magazine. My pal and former editor from my early Net Imperative days, Phil Buxton, is now editor of Revolution. So, I was cajoled into making a swift detour into the UK before heading off to China for SES Nanjing.

I was due to moderate the final session of the day which was a look at the future of search and an opportunity to question some of the leading UK experts assembled for the day.

However, it turned out that one of the speakers had to bail out at the last minute, so I was called upon to knock a quick session together on SEO. It turned out to be quite a lively session.

It also gave me an opportunity to get a few more links to this oft neglected blog with my usual photo bait.

Spot yourself in the audience?

Monday, March 13, 2006

Yee hah, cowboy!

And so, after a brief sniffle and whinge at home with this darned - will not go away - cold, I found myself in the lone star state, last week.

It's a while since I was last in Dallas. I mean I switch metal at DFW airport many times a year, but rarely get to stay over.

Considering my American base is in North Carolina and I know the temperatures there well enough, one may think that I would have known better than to arrive in Texas wearing an overcoat! After freezing temperatures in New York and Newcastle, I arrived to a sweltering 80 degrees.

There are some very unusual buildings in Dallas.

And some which are just darned big!

ad:tech Impact is a series of one day shows taking in the many cities the main show misses. And I'm speaking on behalf of SEMPO. Correct!

I was paired up for my sessions with Ron Belanger, from Yahoo! He and I have been passing each other in conference corridors for months now, and yet we'd never actually met until the afternoon before the show.

Ron has an agency background and was lured over to the dark side by Yahoo! last year. On the day that Google got hit for 90 million, I was delighted to bring up the subject of click fraud during our first session!

He smiled a smile at me in front of the audience, that said, "later, when no one is looking I'm going to poke you in the eye with sharp spiky things, Grehan!"

I have to say, Ron's a great speaker and we gelled really well, considering we'd only just met.

We went out for lunch with IBMs Surf Aid crowd (too many to name them all). Ron is sitting at the front to the left and just over his shoulder, behind him, you can see a smiling Bryan Eisenberg.

All in all, it was a good day and there was some very positive feedback from the attendees. I bumped into Bill Kelm, who drops me the odd note about my ClickZ column. It was good to catch up with him in person.

One of the reasons I make a point of flagging up where I'll be on my travels is so that I can get opportunities to meet readers in person.

Of course, the great man himself, Jim Sterne is presenting the keynote at each of the Impact events. Jim is my great, great friend and I love hanging with him at these events. He does say the funniest things!

Being in Dallas with a couple of spare hours, early evening, I took the opportunity to step back in time and visit the sixth floor museum at Dealey Plaza. Yes, this is where President John F Kennedy was assassinated in 1963.

This is the Texas School Book Depositary, and the infamous sixth floor window is the one on the top right hand corner of the building looking at the side with the entrance. Over 80% of Americans believe that there is some form of conspiracy surrounding the killing of JFK.

I must have seen dozens and dozens of reports and documentaries (and movies) on the subject. And yet, it wasn't until last week, when I physically stood by the window on the sixth floor and then visited the infamous "grassy knoll" that I started to have doubts.

Here's the grassy knoll taken from the opposite side of the road (I even put a Police car in for effect... Well that was just good luck, nothing else, actually!)

And here's a shot from the grassy knoll looking back at the corner window.

Somehow, to me, the grassy knoll thing just doesn't feel right. What the heck would I know, though. But somehow, after standing close to the corner window inside the building... (The actual corner window is encased in glass with boxes arranged just as they were on the day. So it's not possible for any visitors to physically stand at it and get the full view.)

Anyway, behind the wooden fence on the grassy knoll is the same scene as way back then. Some cars parked and some train box cars.

Of course, there's a conspiracy museum too. But when I took a shot of it... The American flag mysteriously flew up and hid the conspiracy bit (Yes, even I have the theme to the Outer Limits playing in my head).

But me, being me, managed to eke out the most intellectual and sophisticated tourist attraction in Dallas.

Anyway, London today ready for "Lucrative Search Marketing" tomorrow. And then it's off to China again on Wednesday.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

And finally, from SES New York.

I'm home in the UK for the weekend before I head back to the States again, next week. The next few weeks include a lot of travelling from one side of the planet to the other. So I really needed to recharge my batteries to get ready for it.

I've written in my ClickZ column for Monday that, it was probably the biggest SES ever in New York last week. I wrote somewhere recently that, I'm a little unfair on New York and London, neither one of them being a favourite place of mine. Both do have saving grace at times though.

However, the major upside for me is that, in both places I have so many great friends.

The legendary internet marketer Larry Chase, is one of my closest buddies in New York. He used to have a great condo down South Street Seaport area, which is one of my favourite places to hang when in New York. Midtown is cool for tourists who want to do Broadway, Times Square and stuff, but it really can get a bit overbearing.

Larry moved out to his old stamping ground in Connecticut last year, where he's just in the process of buying a fabulous new house. But he still comes down to town to meet me when I get in. And then we go back down to the Seaport area to what used to be his local watering hole, a bar called The Paris.

There's also a great little restaurant which sits right under the approach to the Brooklyn Bridge called The Bridge Cafe. It's one of those classic places you only know about if you're a native. So I took my old colleague and great friend Andy Beal, along with Jim Banks and Larry himself, for a little nostalgic dinner on Wednesday night.

If I had a Martini, for every Martini I've had with Larry... Hehe :-)

Later, we headed back Midtown to the conference hotel, The Hilton on Sixth Ave. Naturally, the bar was packed with conference speakers and delegates mixing together and discussing search. There's a lot of camaraderie between SES speakers. And a lot of competition. Not about search - about drinking! I doubt if there's a member of the hardcore group that hangs VERY late at the bar that I haven't seen slip under the table at one time or another.

And funnily enough, with the industry being as it is, full of itinerants, it's most often in American cities that I get have a beer with the UK search contingent. Here's Graham Hansell whom I've had the pleasure of working with at a number of London conferences, catching up with my friend and former colleague, Heather Lloyd Martin (I know, I still forgot to put the red eye filter on!).

One of my favourite sessions at SES is the organic session. However, and I'm sure he does this intentionally, Danny ALWAYS puts us together for it at 9.00 in the morning. I've been on this panel since it first started in London, years ago. The regular team was me, Todd and Bruce for a while. And then we got fourth member of the team, Dave Naylor. Last week's session was great fun with a lot of cross fire between the panellists, and the surprise arrival of a Banana during one of Dave's responses to a question from the audience. No, please don't ask!

It gets a bit heated between Dave and I when it comes to the San... Sand... Sandb... nah, still can't get it out, issue. But we really are good pals. I have a lot of time for him. He's very clever and always VERY funny. In fact, Dave is my closest SES neighbour living only about 60 miles away from me. He lives in a much posher area than I do in a very, very expensive house. I wouldn't be at all surprised if Jeeves has taken up a position there now that he's been let go at Ask.

Here's a blurry eyed Detlev Johnson (the usual session moderator), bright eyed, bushy tailed (and secreting a Banana about his person) Dave Naylor next to him followed by Todd Friesen and Bruce Clay.

And finally, another quick snap of the audience to give them something to link to!

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Cold yuk!

I can't seem to shake this cold off. It's worse today than yesterday.

I struggled downstairs for my session this morning and then headed back to bed with a good supply of Theraflu.

The ballroom we were presenting in is known as the "cursed room" by all of the speakers. If anything can go wrong with a presentation - believe me it does in that room.

Debra had trouble just getting her presentation set up. Greg had his last slide go missing. And then the presentation from the next room was being transmitted over the PA in our room while Chris was speaking..

Definitely a ghost in the machine!

Still, I demonstrated a little bit of practical link building and asked the audience to give me a wave while I took a picture of them - with the sage advice that they should all then link to it!