Meet Bruce Clay, founder and president of Bruce Clay Inc.
Odds are — if you’ve had anything to do with SEO in the last 20 years — you already know who he is. (Google “who is the father of SEO”. Bruce dominates the first page. And the second. And the third…)
Over the past two and a half decades, he’s grown his company into a worldwide search marketing powerhouse. And not once — in 24 years — has he made a cold call.
How did he create such a successful agency? How did he establish himself as “the father of SEO”? How does he continue to grow his business and get in front of new customers?
According to the man himself, “The answer is branding through sharing.”
In 2006, Third Door Media — parent company to Search Engine Land and the Search Marketing Expo (SMX) conference series — was launched by founding partners Danny Sullivan, Chris Elwell, Chris Sherman, and Sean Moriarty.
“It literally took me minutes… to sign up as a charter advertiser on Search Engine Land and [an SMX] sponsor,” says Bruce. “I mean, it was literally that fast… I felt that this was going to be a massive, massive shift and that I’d be a fool not to associate myself with Third Door Media. I was actually the very first sponsor at the very first SMX,” says Bruce. “And I’ve been there for all of them.”
After years of building a reputable company, Bruce realized that all he needed to do to generate new business was put himself in front of the right people. He found those people at SMX.
“The people that had problems that needed solving were the ones that were there. And this was an opportunity to speak to them.”
Bruce has been setting up shop in the SMX Expo Hall roughly three times a year for 13 years. That consistent presence has paid off.
“I’ve had people who went to conferences solely to meet me… and made a point of saying, ‘I’m here for you. I came to meet you… let’s have a meeting, I would like to hire you. I’ve already decided… let’s just work out the details.’ I’ve had that happen.”
His company has also sponsored the SMX Opening Reception at nearly 30 shows… and, no surprise, the man with the most drink tickets to give away is everybody’s friend. “That’s strong branding. People know who you are.”
For Bruce, these opportunities create a genuine top-of-mind recall that’s invaluable.
“Branding, in our industry, is critical to attracting clients,” says Bruce. “Being in their line of sight is critical. And that’s what Third Door Media has allowed me to do.”
According to Bruce, a key “advantage of Third Door Media is their reach. They have a significant reach at a level of decision makers.”
But connecting with interested attendees in the Expo Hall doesn’t mean dollars exchange hands immediately.
“You seldom sign contracts on the floor. But if you can get somebody to commit to ‘Okay, give me a call next week,’ then that is almost as good, right? If they even commit to, ‘I’m looking for this, here’s my business card, let’s talk…’ that’s lead generation! It’s past the marketing qualified level and into sales qualified. And, to me, that is vital.”
The best part? Sponsoring a show this year can mean a flow of lead gen for years to come.
“The lead generation is constant,” says Bruce. “I still have people that call me to say they saw me in a booth five years ago at SMX. Now they’ve changed jobs and they’re ready to hire an agency. And I’ve had people who said, ‘I took your training at SMX…’ and now all of a sudden, they want to hire us for service. Had they not seen me at SMX, maybe that would have happened. So it’s a long-term play.”
The COVID-19 pandemic effectively put the kibosh on 2020 in-person events. Search marketing conferences were no exception.
“I figured, ‘Okay, well, we’re going to be shut down for a couple of months, but SMX Advanced in the summer will probably be good,’” recalls Bruce. “And then a month later, SMX Advanced was canceled. And then I was canceling my own training classes. And then more conferences were canceled. And so here we were — no face-to-face conferences through the end of the year. So I’m looking for how I am going to effectively continue to have SMX advantages when there’s no SMX physical conference.”
That’s when Bruce heard about SMX Next, Third Door Media’s first-ever virtual search marketing conference, held in June 2020.
“I couldn’t possibly miss it.”
For Bruce, the inaugural SMX virtual event was an unparalleled success.
“We’re going to be busier following up [on leads] than we ever would have been at a brick-and-mortar type show. I think I’ve already closed more sales from SMX Next than I ever did at any conference.”
Bruce’s SMX Next sponsored session attracted more than two thousand attendees, nearly 30 requests to learn more about his services, 816 unique presentation downloads, and 556 unique ebook downloads.
“That reach is amazing… it solves a great many problems,” says Bruce. “I’m very happy that Third Door Media has been able to successfully pivot and attract a virtual audience. That’s where I’m going to be playing for a very long time.”
As a small business owner, Bruce is always in the business of being in business. Put another way: “We’re always looking for ways to get sales.” When it comes to choosing a partner that can help him achieve this goal, the most important thing to Bruce is trust.
“If somebody walked up and said, ‘I’ll give you 20 CMO interviews for $20k…’ do I know that’ll actually happen? Do I know they’re warm leads? How qualified are they, really? ”
What Bruce does know is that when he gets an opportunity to sponsor a Third Door Media event, he’ll reach the people on the front lines in the right way — and walk away with truly qualified leads.
“It’s a no-brainer,” says Bruce. Why? Because of trust. The kind of trust that’s built (and proven) over a 13-year-long professional relationship.
“I’m not just a number to SMX,” says Bruce. “I’m not just somebody who can write a check. I’m the person that SMX cares succeeds… I can’t emphasize enough that the entire focus I’ve had with Third Door Media has been, ‘There is a vested interest in Bruce getting what he needs because he’s important to us.’ And I feel that.”
As the search marketing industry continues to evolve, with new trends emerging while others fall by the wayside, digital platforms rising up while traditional events are on-hold — for Bruce, an unshakable constant remains:
“I trust the Third Door Media team. I know that they’re in the business of helping me. We’re family. I know that if I needed something, they’d be able to figure out how to best serve me if at all possible. And as a business owner, I need that from the people I talk to. I need to know that they’re willing to work with me to get this done so that my business can thrive. And I know I can get that with Third Door Media.”
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