Behind the #SMX Scenes With Chris Elwell

Posted in Interviews, SMX Advanced

The time’s almost here! #SMX Advanced kicks off next week and the aimClear team can’t wait to hang with industry thought-leaders and super swell friends, old and new. It’s going to be two jam-packed days of top-shelf sessions, keynotes, panels, and networking shindigs, rounded out by an intense third full day of hardcore Facebook training workshop to boot. But let us for a moment pause, and remember: These invaluable events that grace ours and many online marketer’s calendars could never take place without all of the hard work put in behind the scenes.

One shining star of SMX who has remained a bit out of the spotlight is Chris Elwell, Partner & President of ThirdDoor Media. Chris brings over two decades of interactive media and marketing experience to the table,  specializing in areas from product development to editorial. During SMX events, you’ll find him floating around the session rooms and expo hall with a knowing look that seems to say, “Yep, rocked it again.” Well played, sir. Well played indeed.

On the advent of Advanced, aimClear shared a candid Q&A with Mr. Elwell… topics of discussion ranged from fishing to brand building to Danny Sullivan’s dirty little secrets. (Just kidding! [?]) Read on for the full scoop 🙂 .

| aimClear: Thanks for your time today, Chris! It’s hard to imagine, but some folks don’t completely know who you are since you’re mostly behind the SMX scenes. Enlighten the readers at home. What exactly is your job? Where do you come from? Who are you?!

Chris Elwell: I’m responsible for the commercial side of Third Door Media: marketing, sales, operations and finance. We have exceptionally talented people running all of those departments, which makes my job easy. They include Kendra Jaros (marketing), Sean Moriarty, Mary Warley and Mark D’Agostini (sales), Karen DeWeese (event operations) and Katie Gausepohl (finance).

Where did I come from? Prior to starting TDM with Danny Sullivan I was general manager for a network of tech web sites for 10 years. At various times from 1997 to 2006 they were owned by the same company that went by many names: MecklerMedia, Corporation, INT Media and Jupitermedia. There may have been more names than that, but I’ve forgotten (laughs). All of it was sold to Quinstreet after I left. 

Danny and I got together in 1997, when he sold his first site to me at We then launched the first search marketing conference together in 1999. So we had history before starting TDM, and that’s made starting and running the company pretty frictionless.

| aC: Right on. There’s a lot of online marketing conferences in the world. What makes SMX special? And what is it that truly sets Advanced apart from other SMX shows?

CE: Lauren, you should be a batting practice pitcher. I’ll stick to a couple things.

  • It starts with a passion for the topic. Our editorial team knows internet marketing better than anyone. Most have worked in their own businesses or agencies, so they empathize with the professionals they’re organizing conference sessions for.
  • Second, you’re dealing with the owners at an SMX conference. We approach the experience like you’re coming to our home. That attitude shines through when things run smoothly, our guests are well cared for, and details are handled without our guests noticing.
  • Finally, we don’t have any conflicts between our editorial choices and our business. Agencies and tools companies run events now, and there’s value there. But potential attendees shouldn’t be misled into believing they are objective. They’re not; they’re sales events for the companies that organize them.

| aC: I’m not sure if the “batting practice pitcher” bit is an insult of compliment. I’ll go with the latter. Okay, now for the good stuff… Sure, we all know Danny Sullivan for his insightful industry-defining reporting and rhetoric. But what’s he really like? Give us the dirt 😉

CE: I don’t think “Danny Sullivan” and “dirt” have ever appeared in the same sentence. When he’s not at SMX being the most knowledgeable guy in search, Danny’s at home with his brilliant and lovely wife, Lorna, and sons. He’s been known to drive a little fast, but that’s about all of the dirt I’ve got on him.

| aC: Yeah, we always knew he was grade-A awesome 🙂 . You’ve helped to build brands as a team member and a leader. As you survey the agency and academic landscape for digital marketers, what are some essential trends you note for marketers to keep up with?

CE: Ah, the serious question. My job at TDM isn’t to report on internet marketing; it is to manage (internet) marketing and sales.

On the internet marketing side, we’re still struggling to connect the dots. We know how many people attend our conferences and execute on multi-faceted marketing programs to get them there, but attributing the value of any one of those tactics is 21st century alchemy. I suspect that’s an issue for everyone selling complex products/services online, and one that’s going to keep us all busy for a very long time.

All the communications technology created over the last 20-or-so years has made selling more difficult. Potential callers view sales people as insects to be avoided, so they frequently don’t respond to phone calls. And the idea that all business will be generated by “inbound” channels like SEO, social media, etc. seems naïve. So keeping up with development in advances to connect buyers and sellers is something we’ll all be doing.

| aC: Most excellent. Now, a little birdie told me you’re a pretty serious saltwater fisherman. Tell us about the biggest fish you caught… and the one that got away…

CE: Not to get too “Zen” on you, but I consider being an accomplished saltwater fisherman is a life-long journey of learning. I grew up in Massachusetts, but as far away from the ocean as you can be, so I got a late start. The ocean, weather and seasons change constantly, so you rarely experience the same conditions more than a couple days in a row, and it is humbling to be fishing the same water with a “pro” who is catching…and I’m not!

So for me, catching the “big one” isn’t the goal; the goal is to catch fish consistently in all kinds of conditions. And to pass the joy of doing it, someday, to my yet-to-be-conceived grandchildren.

| aC: I feel… so enlightened! Thanks for your time today, Chris! See you next week 🙂 

Going to be in the Seattle area next week? There’s still Advanced workshop and network passes available to the masses! Get yours today and sample the awesomesauce that is SMX. 

photo credit:  Benson Kua