Two threads erupted yesterday all on conference controversy in the search industry. We have a thread on the controversy of paying speakers at Cre8asite Forums and a thread on the controversy of sponsor paid and run sessions at Sphinn.
Should Search Conferences Pay All Speakers? This is far from a new question, this question is on the minds of all speakers and those who have been in the conference circuit forever. There is knowledge that some speakers are compensated for their flights, hotel and food and sometimes even more. Some smaller conferences actually cover speaker costs and pay a hefty fee to them for speaking. But conferences like SES and SMX typically do not pay speakers and if they do pay speakers, they typically don't cover anything outside of covering flight, hotel, food and miscellaneous fees. But yes, some speakers are compensated at SES and SMX for their costs.
Let's start with keynote speakers. People like Barry Diller, Eric Schmidt, Louis Monier, Jerry Yang and so on are likely not compensated. Think about it, these guys are well off, how much money would a person like Diller, Schmidt, Yang accept to speak at a conference? I doubt any real money an SES or SMX can afford would entice them. So these guys, in my opinion, are not compensated in any way.
How about company representatives from Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and so on? Their companies pay for them to fly to conferences, book their hotels, pay for their meals and so on. Why do they do this? For webmaster and advertiser relation. I doubt the conferences pay them, because in a sense - you, the advertisers are already paying for them to come with your PPC spend.
Mostly everyone else who speak do it for the face time and potential business they might get out of it. So the air time and business cards they get from speaking, covers their costs in the long run.
But there are some who don't get business out of going to these conferences. If they are invited and attendees love to hear them, they are paid. Danny Sullivan did twit that the conference do cover some speakers who are "small consultants doing solo stuff," and adds "say you're doing a session where you're not likely to get much client work but you kick ass on a regular basis. that's one example."
The forum thread at Cre8asite Forums is neutral on the concept of paying some speakers. I suspect if one speaker doesn't get paid, while another one does - it may be possibly insulting or upsetting to the one not getting paid.
How about us? The press who cover the sessions? No, we don't get paid to cover sessions. I mean, we do have ads on the page, but those aren't from session coverage, they are from posts like theses. Our live blog volunteers pay their own way, we don't cover their hotel, food, travel but we do provide a press pass that comes from the conferences (which do cost the conferences money). We pay our own way. The only person I compensate completely is Tamar, since she is a RustyBrick employee. But everyone else shells out a ton of money on travel, hotel and so on for the conference experience, to network, see old friends, learn stuff and also to give back to the community by sharing for those who cannot be there.
So that covers paying speakers and others to come to these events. Forum discussion on that topic at Cre8asite Forums.
Sponsor Paid & Run Sessions? The second debate is taking place at Sphinn on the topic of sessions designed to enable the sponsors to speak and promote their products. This debate is much more heated and lively then the previous one. There are two sides of the story:
(1) The attendee is paying very good money and they don't want to pay for a speaker to give them a sales pitch. Most attendees can get the sales pitch for free by calling the company's 800 number and expressing interest in their services.
(2) The sponsors who pay big money want to be given the opportunity to pitch their products. They want the attendees to have a way to learn about what they can offer. They feel, if the attendee is interested, they will go to the session.
SMX & SES conference have been having these sponsored paid and run sessions for a while now. The main concern, and I noticed this when I began working on the session coverage for SES, was that SES is having a whole time slot to only session paid presentations. If you look at the SES NY Day two agenda, and scroll down to the 3:15pm-4:30pm time slot, you will notice that the only sessions being offered are classified as "Sponsored Sessions." That gives the attendee no choice but to either skip the whole time slot or visit a sponsored session. Typically, a conference will have a single session that is sponsored amongst three or four additional sessions that are not sponsored - giving the attendee the choice. Here, attendees may feel they have no choice.
The debate on that topic is pretty lively but civilized, so check it out at Sphinn.