The Case For & Against Attending Marketing Conferences

Posted by randfish

I just finished reading Jan Schaumann’s short post on Why Companies Should Pay for Their Employees to Attend Conferences. I liked it. I generally agree with it. But I have more to add.

First off, I think it’s reasonable for managers and company leaders to be wary of conferences and events. It is absolutely true that if your employees attend them, there will be costs associated, and it’s logical for businesses to seek a return on investment.

What do you sacrifice when sending a team member to an event?

Let’s start by attempting to tally up the costs:

  • Lost productivity – Usually on the order of 1 to 4 days depending on the length of the event, travel distance, tiredness from travel, whether the team member does some work at the event or makes up with evenings/weekends, etc. Given marketing salaries ranging from $40K–$100K, this could be as little as $150 (~1 day’s cost at the lower end) to $1,900 (a week’s cost on the high end).
  • Cost of tickets – In the web marketing world, the range of events is fairly standard, between ~$1,000 and $2,000, with discounts of 20–50% off those prices for early registration (or with speaker codes). Some examples:
    • CTAConf in Vancouver is $999 ($849 if you’re an Unbounce customer)
    • Content Marketing World in Cleveland is $1,195 (early rate) or $1,395 later
    • Pubcon Las Vegas in $1,099 (early rate), not sure what it goes up to
    • HubSpot’s INBOUND is $1,299 (or $1,899 for a VIP pass)
    • SMX East is $1,795 (or $2,595 for all access)
    • SearchLove London is $890 (or $1,208 for VIP)
    • MozCon in Seattle is $1,549 (or $1,049 for Moz subscribers)
  • Cost of travel and lodging – Often between $1,000–$3,000/person depending on location, length, and flight+hotel costs.
  • Potential loss of employee through recruitment or networking – It’s a thorny one, but it has to be addressed. I know many employers who fear sending their staff to events because they worry that the great networking opportunities will yield a higher-paying or more exciting offer in the future. Let’s say that for every 30 employees you send (or every 30 events you send an employee to), you’ll lose one to an opportunity that otherwise wouldn’t have had them considering a departure. I think that’s way too high (not because marketers don’t leave their jobs but because they almost always leave for reasons other than an opportunity that came through a conference), but we’ll use it anyway. On the low end, that might cost you $10K (if you’ve lost a relatively junior person who can be replaced fairly quickly) and on the high end, might be as much as $100K (if you lose a senior person and have a long period without rehiring + training). We’ll divide that cost by 30 using our formula of one lost employee per thirty events.

Total: $4,630–$10,230

That’s no small barrier. For many small businesses or agencies, it’s a month or two of their marketing expenses or the salary for an employee. There needs to be significant return on those dollars to make it worthwhile. Thankfully, in all of my experiences over hundreds of marketing events the last 12 years, there is.

What do you gain by sending a team member to an event?

Nearly all the benefits of events come from three sources: the growth (in skills, relationships, exposure to ideas, etc) of the attendee(s), applicable tactics & strategies (including all the indirect ones that come from serendipitous touch points), and the extension of your organization’s brand and network.

In the personal growth department, we see benefits like:

  • New skills, often gained through exposure at events and then followed up on through individual research and effort. It’s absolutely true that few attendees will learn enough at a 30-minute talk to excel at some new tactic. But what they will learn is that tactic’s existence, and a way to potentially invest in it.
  • Unique ideas, undiscoverable through solo work or in existing team structures. I’ve experienced this benefit myself many times, and I’ve seen it on Moz’s team countless times.
  • The courage, commitment, inspiration, or simply the catalyst for experimentation or investment. Sometimes it’s not even something new, or something you’ve never talked about as a team. You might even be frustrated to find that your coworker comes back from an event, puts their head down for a week, and shows you a brilliant new process or meaningful result that you’ve been trying to convince them to do for months. Months! The will to do new things strikes whenever and however it strikes. Events often deliver that strike. I’ve sat next to engineers whom I’ve tried to convince for years to make something happen in our tools, but when they see a presenter at MozCon show off another tool that does it or bemoan the manual process currently required, they suddenly set their minds to it and deliver. That inspiration and motivation are priceless.
  • New relationships that unlock additional skill growth, amplification opportunities, business development or partnership possibilities, references, testimonials, social networking, peer validation, and all the other myriad advancements that accompany human connections.
  • Upgrading the ability to learn, to process data and stories and turn them into useful takeaways.
  • Alongside that, upgraded abilities to interact with others, form connections, learn from people, and form or strengthen bonds with colleagues. We learn, even in adulthood, through observation and imitation, and events bring people together in ways that are more memorable, more imprinted, and more likely to resonate and be copied than our day-to-day office interactions.

A gentleman at SearchLove London 2016 gives me an excellent (though slightly blurry) thumbs up

In the applicable tactics & strategies, we get benefits like:

  • New tools or processes that can speed up work, or make the impossible possible.
  • Resources for advancing skills and information on a topic that’s important to one’s job or to a project in particular.
  • Actionable ideas to make an existing task, process, or result easier to achieve or more likely to produce improved results.
  • Bigger-picture concepts that spur an examination of existing direction and can improve broad, strategic approaches.
  • People & organizations who can help with all above, formally or informally, paid as consultants, or just happy to answer a couple questions over email or Twitter.

Purna Virji at SMX Munich 2017

In the extension of organizational brand/network, we get benefits like:

  • Brand exposure to people you meet and interact with at conferences. Since we know the world of sales & marketing is multi-touch, this can have a big impact, especially if either your customers or your amplification targets include anyone in your professional field.
  • Contacts at other companies that can help you reach people or organizations (this benefit has grown massively thanks to the proliferation of professional social networks like those on LinkedIn and Twitter)
  • Potential media contacts, including the more traditional (journalists, news publications) and the emerging (bloggers, online publishers, powerful social amplifiers, etc)
  • A direct introduction point to speakers and organizers (e.g. if anyone emails me saying “I saw you speak at XYZ and wanted to follow up about…” the likelihood of an invested reply goes way up vs. purely online outreach)

But I said above that these three included “nearly all” the benefits, didn’t I? 🙂

Daisy Quaker at MozCon Ignite

It’s true. There are more intangible forms of value events provide. I think one of the biggest is the trust gained between a manager and their team or an employer and their employees. When organizations offer an events budget, especially when they offer it with relative freedom for the team member to choose how and where to spend it, a clear message is sent. The organization believes in its people. It trusts its people. It is willing to sacrifice short-term work for the long-term good of its people. The organization accepts that someone might be recruited away through the network they gain at an event, but is willing to make the trade-off for a more trusting, more valuable team. As the meme goes:

CFO: What if we invest in our people and they leave?
CEO: What if we don’t and they stay?

Total: $A Lot?

How do you measure the returns?

The challenge comes in because these are hard things for which to calculate ROI. In fact, any number I throw out for any of these above will absolutely be wrong for your particular situation and organization. The only true way to estimate value is through hindsight, and that means having faith that the future will look like the past (or rigorous, statistically sound models with large sample sizes, validated through years of controlled comparison… which only a handful of the world’s biggest and richest companies do).

It’s easy to see stories like “The biggest deals I’ve ever done, mostly (80%) came from meeting people at conferences” and “I’ve had the opportunity to open the door of conversations previously thought locked” and “When I send people on my team I almost always find they come back more inspired, rejuvenated, and full of fire” and dismiss them as outliers or invent reasons why the same won’t apply to you. It’s also easy explain away past successes gained through events as not necessarily requiring the in-person component.

I see this happen a lot. I’m embarrassed to say I’ve seen it at Moz. Remember last summer, when we did layoffs? One of the benefits cut was the conference and events budget for team members. While I think that was the right decision, I’m also hopeful & pushing for that to be one of the first benefits we reinstate now that we’re profitable again.

Lexi Mills at Turing Festival in Edinburgh

Over the years of my event participation, first as an attendee, and later as a speaker, I can measure my personal and Moz’s professional benefits, and come up with some ballpark range. It’s harder to do with my team members because I can’t observe every benefit, but I can certainly see every cost in line-item format. Human beings are pretty awful in situations like these. We bias to loss aversion over potential gain. We rationalize why others benefit when we don’t. We don’t know what we’re missing so we use logic to convince ourselves it’s ROI negative to justify our decision.

It’s the same principle that often makes hard-to-measure marketing channels the best ROI ones.

Some broader discussions around marketing event issues

Before writing this post, I asked on Twitter about the pros and cons of marketing conferences that folks felt were less often covered. A number of the responses were insightful and worthy of discussion follow-ups, so I wanted to include them here, with some thoughts.

If you’re a conference organizer, you know how tough a conversation this is. Want to bring in outside food vendors (which are much more affordable and interesting than what venues themselves usually offer)? 90% of venues have restrictions against it. Want to get great food for attendees? That same 90% are going to charge you on the order of hundreds of dollars per attendee. MozCon’s food costs are literally 25%+ of our entire budget, and considering we usually break even or lose a little money, that’s huge.

If you’re a media company and you run events for profit, or you’re a smaller business that can’t afford to have your events be a money-losing endeavor, you’re between a rock and a hard place. At places like MozCon and CTAConf, the food is pretty killer, but the flip side is there’s no margin at all. Many conferences simply can’t afford to swing that.

Totally agree with Ross — interesting one, and pros/cons to each. At smaller shows, I love the more intimate connections, but I’m also well aware that for most speakers, it’s a tough proposition to ask for a new presentation or to bring their best stuff. It’s also hard to get many big-name speakers. And, as Ross points out, the networking can be deeper, but with a smaller group. If you’re hoping to meet someone from company X or run into colleagues from the past, small size may inhibit.

For years prior to MozCon, I’d only ever been to events with a couple keynotes and then panels of 3–6 people in breakout sessions the rest of the day. I naively thought we’d invented some brilliant new system with the all-keynote-style conference (it had obviously been around for decades; I just wasn’t exposed to it). It also became clear over time that many other marketing conferences had the same idea and today, it’s an even split between those that do all-keynotes vs. those with a hybrid of breakouts, panels, and keynotes.

Personally, my preference is still all-keynote. I agree with Greg that, on occasion, a speaker won’t do a great job, and sitting through those 20–40 minutes can be frustrating. But I can count on a single hand the number of panel sessions I’ve ever found value in, and I strongly dislike being forced to choose between sessions and not sharing the same experience with other attendees. Even when the session I’ve chosen is a good one, I have FOMO (“what if that other session around the corner is even better?!”) and that drives my quality of experience down.

This, though, is personal preference. If you like panels, breakouts, and multi-track options, stick to SMX, Content Marketing World, INBOUND, and others like them. If you’re like me and prefer all keynotes, single track, go for CTAConf, Searchlove, Inbounder, MozCon, and their ilk.

I agree this is a real problem. Being a conference organizer, I get to see a lot of the feedback and requests, and I think that’s where the issue stems from. For example, a few years back, Brittan Bright, who now does sales at Google in New York, gave a brilliant talk about the soft skills of selling and client relations. It scored OK in the lineup, but a lot of the feedback overall that year was from people who wanted more “tactical tips” and “technical tricks” and less “soft skills” content. Every conference has to deal with this demand and supply issue. You might respond (as my friend Wil Reynolds often does) with “who cares what people say they want?! Give them what they don’t know they need!”

That’s how conferences go broke, my friends. 🙂 Every year, we try to include at least a few sessions that focus on these softer skills (in numerous ways), and every year, there’s pushback from folks who wish we’d just show them how to get more easy links, or present some new tool they haven’t heard of before. It’s a tough give and take, but I’m empathetic to both sides on this issue. Actionable tactics matter, and they make for big, immediate wins. Soft skills are important, too, but there’s a significant portion of the audience who’ll get frustrated seeing talks on these topics.

Hrm… I think I agree more with Freja than with Herman, but it’s entirely a personal preference. If you know yourself well enough to know that you’ll benefit more (or less) by attending with others from your team, make the call. This is one reason I love the idea of businesses offering the freedom of choice on how to use their event budget.

There were a number of these conflicting points-of-view in reply to my tweet, and I think they indicate the challenge for attendees and organizers. Opinions vary about what makes for a great conference, a great speaker or session, or the best way to get value from them.

Which marketing conferences do I recommend?

I get this question a lot (which is fair, I go to *a lot* of events). It really depends what you like, so I’ll try to break down my recommendations in that format.

Big, industry-wide events with many thousands of attendees, big name keynotes, famous musical acts, and hundreds of breakout session options:

  • INBOUND by Hubspot (Boston, MA 9/25–9/28) is a clear choice here. If you craft your experience well, you can get an immense amount of value.
  • Content Marketing World (Cleveland, OH 9/5–9/8) is always a good show, and they’ve recently focused on getting more gender-diverse.
  • Dreamforce by Salesforce (San Francisco, CA 11/6–11/9) has a similar feel to INBOUND in size and format, though it’s generally more classic sales & marketing focused, and has less programming that overlaps with our/my world of SEO, social media, content marketing, etc.
  • Web Summit (Lisbon, Portugal 11/6–11/9) is even broader, focusing on technology, startups, entrepreneurship, and sales+marketing. If you’re looking to break out of the marketing bubble and get a chance to see some “where are we going” and “what’s driving innovation” content, this is a good one.
  • SMX Munich (Munich, Germany 3/20–3/21 2018) is one of the best produced and best attended shows in Europe. This event consistently delivers great presentations. Because of its location on the calendar, it’s also where many speakers debut their theses and tactics each year, and since it’s in Germany (or, more probably because it’s run by the amazing Sandra & Matthew Finlay), everything is executed to perfection.

Mid-tier events with 1,000–1,500 attendee:

  • MozCon by Moz (Seattle, WA 7/17–7/19) I’m obviously biased, but I also get to see the survey data from attendees. The ratings of “excellent” or “outstanding” and the high number of people who buy tickets for the following year within a few days of leaving give me confidence that this is still one of the best events in the web marketing world.
  • CTAConf by Unbounce (Vancouver, BC 6/25–6/27) Oli Gardner, who’s become an exceptional speaker himself, works directly with every presenter (all invitation-only, like MozCon) to make sure the decks are top notch. In addition, the setting in Vancouver, the food trucks, the staging, the networking, and the kindness of Canada are all wonderful.
  • Inbounder (Valencia, Spain 5/2018) This event only happens every other year, but if 2016 was anything to judge by, it’s one of Europe’s best. Certainly, you won’t find a more incredible city or a better location. The conference hall is inside a spaceship that’s landed on a grassy park surrounding an ancient walled city. Even Seattle’s glacier-ringed beauty can’t top that.
  • ConversionXL Live (Austin, TX 3/28–3/30) Peep Laja and crew put on a terrific event with a lovely venue and clear attention paid to the actionable, tactical value of takeaways. I came back from the few sessions I attended with all sorts of suggestions for the Moz team to try (if only webdev resources weren’t so difficult to wrangle).
  • SMX Advanced (Seattle, WA TBD 2018) I haven’t been in a couple years, but many search marketers rave about this show’s location, production quality, panels, and speakers. It’s one of the few places that still attracts the big-name representatives from Google & Bing, so if you want to hear directly from the horse’s mouth a few seconds before it’s broadcast and analyzed a million ways on Twitter, this is the spot.

Outside The Inbounder Conference in Valencia, Spain

Smaller, local, & niche events with a few hundred attendees and a more intimate setting:

  • SearchLove (San Diego, Boston, & London 10/16–10/17) It’s somewhat extraordinary that this event remains small, like a hidden secret in the web marketing world. The quality of content and presentations are on par with MozCon (as are the ratings, and I know from other events how rare those are), but the settings are more intimate with only 2-300 participants in San Diego & Boston, and a larger, but still convivial crowd of 4-600 in London. I personally learn more at Searchlove than any other show.
  • Engage (formerly Searchfest) The SEMPDX crew has always had a unique, wonderful event, and Portland, OR is one of my favorite cities to visit.
  • MNSearch (Minneapolis 6/23) One of the exciting up-and-coming local events in our space. The MNSearch folks have brought together great speakers in fun venues at a surprisingly affordable price, and with some killer after-hours events, too. I’ve been twice and was very impressed both times.

This list is by no means exhaustive, and I’m certain there are many other events that give great value. I can only speak from my own experiences, which are going to carry the bias of what I’ve seen and what I like.

Help us better understand the value of conferences to you

Two years ago, I ran a survey about marketing conferences and received, analyzed, then published the results. I’d like to repeat that again, and see what’s changed. Please contribute and tell us what matters to you:

Take the survey here

I look forward to the discussion in the comments. If the Twitter thread was any indication, there’s a lot of passion and interest around this topic, one that I share. And of course, if you’d like to chat in person about this and see how we’re doing things at Moz, I hope you’ll consider MozCon in just a few weeks in Seattle.


Roger MozBotRoger’s note: *beep* Rogerbot here! I think Rand forgot an important benefit of one conference: At MozCon, you can hug a robot. If you’re considering joining us in Seattle this July, we’re over 75% sold out! Be sure to grab your ticket while you can.

Sign up for The Moz Top 10, a semimonthly mailer updating you on the top ten hottest pieces of SEO news, tips, and rad links uncovered by the Moz team. Think of it as your exclusive digest of stuff you don’t have time to hunt down but want to read!

from Raymond Castleberry Blog http://raymondcastleberry.blogspot.com/2017/06/the-case-for-against-attending.html
via http://raymondcastleberry.blogspot.com

New York’s Bet on Silevo’s Solar Technology Fails to Deliver

New York’s deal with Silevo Inc. is a sham and illustrates the problems that arise when politicians use taxpayer money to attract and reward favored industries. Silevo, which was acquired by Solar City, is a photovoltaic cell and module technology company that developed the proprietary Triex solar modules. New York’s deal with Silevo was to establish a manufacturing facility to produce 1 gigawatt worth (10,000 solar panels a day) of its Triex module technology with the potential of adding an additional 5 gigawatts of capacity in a later phase.

The agreement granted Silevo the use of a 1,000,000-square-foot factory in Buffalo, occupying 88 acres, with a lease that runs for 10 years and a 10-year renewal right. The rent is $1 or $2 per year. New York promised to spend $750 million on the factory and purchasing manufacturing equipment.[i]

In return, Silevo agreed to employ at least 1,460 people in “high tech jobs” at the factory, with 900 of those hires to be made within two years after completion of the factory; to retain the 1,460 high tech workers for at least five years; and to employ an additional 2,000 people over the first five years to support downstream solar panel sales and installation activities within New York. In addition to those jobs, Silevo agreed to help attract and retain an additional 1,440 “support jobs” in New York, for a total of 4,900 jobs. It also agreed to spend approximately $5 billion in capital expenses, operating expenses, and other costs over a 10 year period after full production began.

After the initial agreement made in 2014, modifications were made with Solar City, who acquired Silevo in June 2014, which watered down the agreement. The 1,460 high tech jobs turned into just 1,460 jobs with no “high tech” requirement. Instead of Solar City being required to hire 900 of those employees during the first two years after factory completion, only 500 were required. Further, the wording regarding the 2,000 hires, “to support downstream solar panels sales and installation activities within New York” was removed. Also, 7 delays were made to the factory completion date originally set for December 15, 2015 and finally set for March 31, 2017.

At this point, 3 years after the original agreement, none of the achievements promised in 2014 has occurred: no solar cells have been produced at the factory, there are no Buffalo jobs and the Silevo solar cell technology, Triex, has been abandoned by Solar City. Solar City has pushed back the target date for full production at the Buffalo factory from the first quarter of 2017 to later in the year.[ii] (The plant is expected to open this summer, with full production expected by the end of the year.[iii])

In fact, Tesla, who acquired Solar City, has partnered with Panasonic to build solar cells and modules in Buffalo, New York, implying that Solar City’s Silevo endeavor is a failure.[iv] According to Tesla’s blog post, the factory will produce Panasonic’s “high-efficiency PV cells and modules” and Panasonic will invest over $256 million in the Buffalo factory.[v]

Conclusion

New York’s decision to spend $750 million in taxpayer funds for a highly automated factory creating just 500 manufacturing jobs equates to a gigantic $1.5 million subsidy per manufacturing job.[vi] New York politicians made the risky investment despite competition from China’s solar panel industry and rapid changes being underway in the domestic market.


[i] Seeking Alpha, Tesla: SolarCity’s Buffalo Deal Has Lots Of Crooked Bends In The River, June 12, 2017, https://seekingalpha.com/article/4080844-tesla-solarcitys-buffalo-deal-lots-crooked-bends-river?auth_param=1cqlaa:1cjtlcp:e54fc92607a58c8a898a1ebf4de907d6&dr=1

[ii] MIT Technology Review, SolarCity’s Gigafactory. https://www.technologyreview.com/s/600770/10-breakthrough-technologies-2016-solarcitys-gigafactory/

[iii] WIVB, SolarCity to open south Buffalo plant ‘soon after’ June, May 4, 2017, http://wivb.com/2017/05/04/solarcity-to-open-south-buffalo-plant-soon-after-june/

[iv] The Motley Fool, Is SolarCity’s Buffalo Solar Plant a Failure? Tesla Thinks So, October 17, 2017, https://www.fool.com/investing/2016/10/17/is-solarcitys-buffalo-solar-plant-a-failure-tesla.aspx

[v] Ars Technica, Panasonic will spend $256 million on Tesla solar panel factory in Buffalo, NY, December, 27, 2016, https://arstechnica.com/business/2016/12/panasonic-will-spend-256-million-on-tesla-solar-panel-factory-in-buffalo-ny/

[vi] Daily Energy Insider, Success of Buffalo Billion-backed SolarCity factory remains elusive, March 24, 2017, https://dailyenergyinsider.com/featured/3905-success-buffalo-billion-backed-solarcity-factory-remains-elusive/

The post New York’s Bet on Silevo’s Solar Technology Fails to Deliver appeared first on IER.

from Raymond Castleberry Blog http://raymondcastleberry.blogspot.com/2017/06/new-yorks-bet-on-silevos-solar.html
via http://raymondcastleberry.blogspot.com

New York’s Bet on Silevo’s Solar Technology Fails to Deliver

New York’s deal with Silevo Inc. is a sham and illustrates the problems that arise when politicians use taxpayer money to attract and reward favored industries. Silevo, which was acquired by Solar City, is a photovoltaic cell and module technology company that developed the proprietary Triex solar modules. New York’s deal with Silevo was to establish a manufacturing facility to produce 1 gigawatt worth (10,000 solar panels a day) of its Triex module technology with the potential of adding an additional 5 gigawatts of capacity in a later phase.

The agreement granted Silevo the use of a 1,000,000-square-foot factory in Buffalo, occupying 88 acres, with a lease that runs for 10 years and a 10-year renewal right. The rent is $1 or $2 per year. New York promised to spend $750 million on the factory and purchasing manufacturing equipment.[i]

In return, Silevo agreed to employ at least 1,460 people in “high tech jobs” at the factory, with 900 of those hires to be made within two years after completion of the factory; to retain the 1,460 high tech workers for at least five years; and to employ an additional 2,000 people over the first five years to support downstream solar panel sales and installation activities within New York. In addition to those jobs, Silevo agreed to help attract and retain an additional 1,440 “support jobs” in New York, for a total of 4,900 jobs. It also agreed to spend approximately $5 billion in capital expenses, operating expenses, and other costs over a 10 year period after full production began.

After the initial agreement made in 2014, modifications were made with Solar City, who acquired Silevo in June 2014, which watered down the agreement. The 1,460 high tech jobs turned into just 1,460 jobs with no “high tech” requirement. Instead of Solar City being required to hire 900 of those employees during the first two years after factory completion, only 500 were required. Further, the wording regarding the 2,000 hires, “to support downstream solar panels sales and installation activities within New York” was removed. Also, 7 delays were made to the factory completion date originally set for December 15, 2015 and finally set for March 31, 2017.

At this point, 3 years after the original agreement, none of the achievements promised in 2014 has occurred: no solar cells have been produced at the factory, there are no Buffalo jobs and the Silevo solar cell technology, Triex, has been abandoned by Solar City. Solar City has pushed back the target date for full production at the Buffalo factory from the first quarter of 2017 to later in the year.[ii] (The plant is expected to open this summer, with full production expected by the end of the year.[iii])

In fact, Tesla, who acquired Solar City, has partnered with Panasonic to build solar cells and modules in Buffalo, New York, implying that Solar City’s Silevo endeavor is a failure.[iv] According to Tesla’s blog post, the factory will produce Panasonic’s “high-efficiency PV cells and modules” and Panasonic will invest over $256 million in the Buffalo factory.[v]

Conclusion

New York’s decision to spend $750 million in taxpayer funds for a highly automated factory creating just 500 manufacturing jobs equates to a gigantic $1.5 million subsidy per manufacturing job.[vi] New York politicians made the risky investment despite competition from China’s solar panel industry and rapid changes being underway in the domestic market.


[i] Seeking Alpha, Tesla: SolarCity’s Buffalo Deal Has Lots Of Crooked Bends In The River, June 12, 2017, https://seekingalpha.com/article/4080844-tesla-solarcitys-buffalo-deal-lots-crooked-bends-river?auth_param=1cqlaa:1cjtlcp:e54fc92607a58c8a898a1ebf4de907d6&dr=1

[ii] MIT Technology Review, SolarCity’s Gigafactory. https://www.technologyreview.com/s/600770/10-breakthrough-technologies-2016-solarcitys-gigafactory/

[iii] WIVB, SolarCity to open south Buffalo plant ‘soon after’ June, May 4, 2017, http://wivb.com/2017/05/04/solarcity-to-open-south-buffalo-plant-soon-after-june/

[iv] The Motley Fool, Is SolarCity’s Buffalo Solar Plant a Failure? Tesla Thinks So, October 17, 2017, https://www.fool.com/investing/2016/10/17/is-solarcitys-buffalo-solar-plant-a-failure-tesla.aspx

[v] Ars Technica, Panasonic will spend $256 million on Tesla solar panel factory in Buffalo, NY, December, 27, 2016, https://arstechnica.com/business/2016/12/panasonic-will-spend-256-million-on-tesla-solar-panel-factory-in-buffalo-ny/

[vi] Daily Energy Insider, Success of Buffalo Billion-backed SolarCity factory remains elusive, March 24, 2017, https://dailyenergyinsider.com/featured/3905-success-buffalo-billion-backed-solarcity-factory-remains-elusive/

The post New York’s Bet on Silevo’s Solar Technology Fails to Deliver appeared first on IER.

New York’s Bet on Silevo’s Solar Technology Fails to Deliver

New York’s deal with Silevo Inc. is a sham and illustrates the problems that arise when politicians use taxpayer money to attract and reward favored industries. Silevo, which was acquired by Solar City, is a photovoltaic cell and module technology company that developed the proprietary Triex solar modules. New York’s deal with Silevo was to establish a manufacturing facility to produce 1 gigawatt worth (10,000 solar panels a day) of its Triex module technology with the potential of adding an additional 5 gigawatts of capacity in a later phase.

The agreement granted Silevo the use of a 1,000,000-square-foot factory in Buffalo, occupying 88 acres, with a lease that runs for 10 years and a 10-year renewal right. The rent is $1 or $2 per year. New York promised to spend $750 million on the factory and purchasing manufacturing equipment.[i]

In return, Silevo agreed to employ at least 1,460 people in “high tech jobs” at the factory, with 900 of those hires to be made within two years after completion of the factory; to retain the 1,460 high tech workers for at least five years; and to employ an additional 2,000 people over the first five years to support downstream solar panel sales and installation activities within New York. In addition to those jobs, Silevo agreed to help attract and retain an additional 1,440 “support jobs” in New York, for a total of 4,900 jobs. It also agreed to spend approximately $5 billion in capital expenses, operating expenses, and other costs over a 10 year period after full production began.

After the initial agreement made in 2014, modifications were made with Solar City, who acquired Silevo in June 2014, which watered down the agreement. The 1,460 high tech jobs turned into just 1,460 jobs with no “high tech” requirement. Instead of Solar City being required to hire 900 of those employees during the first two years after factory completion, only 500 were required. Further, the wording regarding the 2,000 hires, “to support downstream solar panels sales and installation activities within New York” was removed. Also, 7 delays were made to the factory completion date originally set for December 15, 2015 and finally set for March 31, 2017.

At this point, 3 years after the original agreement, none of the achievements promised in 2014 has occurred: no solar cells have been produced at the factory, there are no Buffalo jobs and the Silevo solar cell technology, Triex, has been abandoned by Solar City. Solar City has pushed back the target date for full production at the Buffalo factory from the first quarter of 2017 to later in the year.[ii] (The plant is expected to open this summer, with full production expected by the end of the year.[iii])

In fact, Tesla, who acquired Solar City, has partnered with Panasonic to build solar cells and modules in Buffalo, New York, implying that Solar City’s Silevo endeavor is a failure.[iv] According to Tesla’s blog post, the factory will produce Panasonic’s “high-efficiency PV cells and modules” and Panasonic will invest over $256 million in the Buffalo factory.[v]

Conclusion

New York’s decision to spend $750 million in taxpayer funds for a highly automated factory creating just 500 manufacturing jobs equates to a gigantic $1.5 million subsidy per manufacturing job.[vi] New York politicians made the risky investment despite competition from China’s solar panel industry and rapid changes being underway in the domestic market.


[i] Seeking Alpha, Tesla: SolarCity’s Buffalo Deal Has Lots Of Crooked Bends In The River, June 12, 2017, https://seekingalpha.com/article/4080844-tesla-solarcitys-buffalo-deal-lots-crooked-bends-river?auth_param=1cqlaa:1cjtlcp:e54fc92607a58c8a898a1ebf4de907d6&dr=1

[ii] MIT Technology Review, SolarCity’s Gigafactory. https://www.technologyreview.com/s/600770/10-breakthrough-technologies-2016-solarcitys-gigafactory/

[iii] WIVB, SolarCity to open south Buffalo plant ‘soon after’ June, May 4, 2017, http://wivb.com/2017/05/04/solarcity-to-open-south-buffalo-plant-soon-after-june/

[iv] The Motley Fool, Is SolarCity’s Buffalo Solar Plant a Failure? Tesla Thinks So, October 17, 2017, https://www.fool.com/investing/2016/10/17/is-solarcitys-buffalo-solar-plant-a-failure-tesla.aspx

[v] Ars Technica, Panasonic will spend $256 million on Tesla solar panel factory in Buffalo, NY, December, 27, 2016, https://arstechnica.com/business/2016/12/panasonic-will-spend-256-million-on-tesla-solar-panel-factory-in-buffalo-ny/

[vi] Daily Energy Insider, Success of Buffalo Billion-backed SolarCity factory remains elusive, March 24, 2017, https://dailyenergyinsider.com/featured/3905-success-buffalo-billion-backed-solarcity-factory-remains-elusive/

The post New York’s Bet on Silevo’s Solar Technology Fails to Deliver appeared first on IER.

​Moz Local Report: Who’s Winning Wealth Management?

Posted by Dr-Pete

As more people look for financial advice online, brick-and-mortar wealth management firms and financial advisors are competing harder than ever for search customers. More than 70% of millennials use search engines for research, and 15% of 18–34 year-olds are turning directly to search engines for financial advice. As consumers in their 20s and 30s grow their wealth, have families, and begin planning for the future, who is best situated to capture their attention online?

This turns out to be a more difficult question than you might think. Focusing on Google, there are three major areas where financial service providers can compete: organic results, local results, and paid results (ads). Even organic results are increasingly localized, with top rankings varying wildly from city to city, and traditional organic results are often pushed below both ads and the local 3-pack. Local packs command a large amount of screen real-estate — here’s a local pack for “financial planner” in my own suburban Chicago neighborhood:

In partnership with Hearsay Systems, which provides Advisor Cloud solutions for the financial services industry, we decided to find out who’s leading the pack (no pun intended) in 2017 for wealth management and financial advisory searches across organic, local, and paid results.

Get the full report

Research methodology

For the purposes of this study, we decided to target five keyphrases related to wealth management and financial advisory services:

  1. financial advisor
  2. financial planning
  3. financial planner
  4. financial consultant
  5. wealth management

For each keyword, we looked at page one of Google results across 5,000 cities (the 5K largest cities in the contiguous 48 states, according to US census data). We then captured URLs and ranking positions across organic, local, and paid results.

To aggregate the data, we weighted each result by the population of the corresponding city and the estimated click-through rate (CTR) of its ranking position. We used a fairly conservative CTR curve, weighting top results a bit heavier, but not too dramatically:

For the final analysis across all five keywords, we weighted each keyword by its estimated search volume (according to Google Adwords) in the United States. By far, “financial advisor” was the most popular keyword, scooping up about 55% of search share across the keyword set.

Since some large brands use multiple websites (domains), we consolidated their numbers across those domains. So, for example, morganstanley.com and morganstanleybranch.com were grouped together in the final analysis. Quite a few brands have separate domains for their corporate site and local/branch locations. We’re interested in the strength of the brands themselves, not the particulars of how they divvy up their websites.

Top 5 organic leaders

The Top 5 for organic results were dominated by informational and news sites. The following graph compares the total “Click Share” based on all available clicks across all sites:

Investopedia led the way, scoring almost one-fifth of all clicks in our aggregate model, across more than 4,000 ranking domains. Among major players in the financial services space, only Edward Jones made it into the Top 5.

This is consistent with the idea that people are seeking general financial advice, and may not always be looking to organic results to find local service providers. Google’s results can often tell us a lot about how they’re interpreting search intent.

Curious case of keyword #4

Across the five keywords, we generally saw similar patterns. There were ranking variations, of course, but most of the top sites for one keyword performed well across the other keywords in organic results. The notable exception was keyword #4, “financial consultant.”

The Top 10 organic competitors for “financial consultant” included Monster.com (#1), Indeed.com (#4), Glassdoor (#5), and Robert Half (#7). Google seems to be interpreting this search as a job-hunting search and not a search for a service provider. This goes to show how important it is to make sure you’re targeting the right terms.

Top 5 local leaders

Applying the same analysis to the local pack, we came up with the following Top 5…

Traditional wealth management players performed much better in local pack results. Across our data, though, Edward Jones dominated the competitors in local rankings, consuming almost 40% of the total Click Share.

Interestingly, there was more overall diversity in local pack results, even with one dominant player and only three ranking positions per page. While just over 4,000 different domains ranked across organic results, local packs in our data set sampled from almost 7,000 different domains.

Top 5 paid/ad leaders

Morgan Stanley led the way in paid positioning, capturing just under 20% of Click Share. The rest of the Top 5 paid players were a bit more well-rounded, consuming roughly equal shares…

Interesting to note that relative newcomer SoFi seems to be spending pretty heavily in the space. SoFi (“Social Finance”) is an online finance community clearly aimed at the digital generation.

Given that this is a competitive space with relatively high costs-per-click (CPC), only 366 domains appeared in paid listings in our study. This was not due to a lack of ads — over 99% of the search results we examined displayed ads, and almost every search had a full complement of seven ads.

Non-traditional players

In addition to SoFi, a couple of newcomers fared pretty well in our data relative to their size and spend. Betterment.com appeared in 25th place in organic and 16th in paid. NerdWallet came in 46th in organic results and 22nd in paid. Credio.com took 20th place in organic overall but had no paid presence.

The one advantage traditional players clearly still have is in local results, where none of these newcomers ranked. Big brands with multiple brick-and-mortar presences still dominate local pack results, for obvious reasons, and online-only players can’t compete in local/map results. This makes performing well in local results even more important for big brands with a strong, nationwide physical presence.

Big winner: Edward Jones

Squeezing a lot of data into one graph can be a little dangerous, but let’s take a peek at what happens when we aggregate across all three types of listings (organic, local, and paid). Here are the Top 5 across all of the data in our study…

The combination of their dominant #1 position in our local data, #5 in organic, and a solid #25 in paid makes Edward Jones the clear overall winner, grabbing just over 14% of total Click Share in our study. Industry powerhouse Morgan Stanley comes in at #2, thanks primarily to their #1 paid ranking and #5 local position.

What’s the secret to Edward Jones’ success? Despite what the Internet wants you to believe, there’s almost never just one weird trick to search marketing success in 2017. One significant factor may be that Edward Jones has gone all-in on hyper-local pages. Their dominant local presence was made up of over 7,000 unique URLs representing their individual advisors.

Each advisor page has a clear, consistent Name, Address, and Phone number (or “NAP,” to use local search lingo), office hours, and other essential information. While the pages aren’t particularly unique, Edward Jones has done a good job of making sure that local offices are well represented and have a consistent, structured page.

It’s worth noting that even local rankings are very keyword specific. While Edward Jones ranked #1 overall in local packs for all four keyphrases starting with “financial…”, they fell to #23 for “wealth management.” Edward Jones has clearly carved out their niche.

The Wall Street Journal, on the other hand, maintains their dominant organic position with just a single page: a guide to choosing a financial planner. This page clearly benefits from WSJ’s overall authority, and it shows just how different ranking for organic and local search has become these days.

A few tactical takeaways

Based on this research, what advice would we give to financial players (big and small) who hope to be competitive in Google search?

Brick-and-mortar should focus on local

The big financial players with physical offices need to capitalize on that fact, because online-only players won’t be able to compete in local results (at least for now). While a hyper-local approach (to the tune of thousands of pages) is a big undertaking and not without risk, I’d highly recommend testing it if you’re a big player in the space. Edward Jones’ success with this approach can’t be ignored.

For local, focus attention on key markets

You don’t have to compete in every market (you’re probably not even physically in every market). Across even five keywords and 5,000 cities, there were roughly 7,000 domains ranking in the local 3-pack. That means that the winners for any given market varied wildly. Invest your hyper-local resources in key markets with the highest potential ROI.

Online-only should invest in content

Sure, the Wall Street Journal is a huge player, but the fact that they ranked across thousands of cities and highly competitive keywords with a single piece of content is still pretty amazing. Google seems to be interpreting these keywords as informational, and so online-only players need to invest heavily in content that hits the research phase of the buyer cycle. If big financial players hope to compete for organic, they may have to do the same.

You may have to pay for placement

I’ve worked in paid search in a former life, and I believe a balanced approach to search marketing has to be an eyes-wide-open approach. Right now, ads have prominent placement on these searches, often with a full seven ads per page (including four at the top). If you have the money and want to compete against organic and local pack results, you have to at least run the numbers on advertising.

Get the full report

Special thanks to our partners at Hearsay Systems for their industry expertise and contributions to planning this project and analyzing the data. Hearsay provides Advisor Cloud solutions for the financial services and insurance industries.

Sign up for The Moz Top 10, a semimonthly mailer updating you on the top ten hottest pieces of SEO news, tips, and rad links uncovered by the Moz team. Think of it as your exclusive digest of stuff you don’t have time to hunt down but want to read!

from Raymond Castleberry Blog http://raymondcastleberry.blogspot.com/2017/06/moz-local-report-whos-winning-wealth.html
via http://raymondcastleberry.blogspot.com

The Wind Lobby’s Preemptive Strike on the Perry Grid Study

In an April 14 memo circulated through the Department of Energy, Secretary Rick Perry ordered a 60-day DOE study of the electric grid examining “the extent to which continued regulatory burdens, as well as mandates and tax and subsidy policies, are responsible for forcing the premature retirement of baseload power plants.” In this era of overwrought political outrage, even an innocuous, consumer-focused initiative such as this grid study can become the focus of a partisan furor. And indeed this study has.

Just three days after Perry ordered the DOE study, American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) CEO Tom Kiernan issued a memo of his own laying out an explicit plan to delegitimize the project. The memo—obtained by the Daily Caller News Foundation, posted on the open-publishing website Scribd, and subsequently deleted—catalogued a series of actions AWEA would pursue to undermine DOE’s as-of-yet unpublished study.

As Kiernan wrote on April 17:

In response, AWEA has initiated the following steps…

-Refine message, including a statement for today’s media calls and interviews (attached at bottom with details and sources), which makes these points:

  • Diverse grid is more reliable: We have more fuel diversity than ever with wind’s recent additions, which has enhanced reliability and resilience (per recent studies by largest grid operator PJM, NERC, and others)
  • It’s the market: Low gas prices (sustained by a winter that was 5 degrees warmer than average and record expansion of natural gas pipeline capacity) are behind coal and nuclear’s market challenges.
  • Jobs: Wind already has more jobs than coal mining and is adding jobs fast, and these are long-term good jobs with benefits in rural and Rust Belt America.

-Discuss with contacts at DOE

-Find out who will do study at DOE and brief them on our analysis. (We have seen these arguments before and so have data/rebuttals etc. largely prepared, but are updating)

-Secure meeting with FERC to share AWEA analysis (as FERC may be involved in DOE analysis, would be involved in carrying out any potential proposed regulatory reforms, and FERC has its own proceedings going on related to subsidies and wholesale markets)

-Pull existing research together into tightly written blog article

-Consider our own counter study, whether by AWEA or commissioned from third party

-Prepare to debunk others’ statements or studies, for example by the Institute for Energy Research, Northbridge (which did Exelon study), et al

Today, AWEA followed through on its commitment, releasing the proposed third-party study, titled Electricity Markets, Reliability and the Evolving U.S. Power System, in conjunction with Analysis Group under the authorship of Paul Hibbard, Susan Tierney, and Katherine Franklin.

Unsurprisingly, the Analysis Group study obscures the role government policy has played at both a federal and state level in propping up wind generation at the expense of other energy sources.

Market forces are helping to change the mix of resources as the report indicates, but so are onerous regulations such as the Obama Administration’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standard (MATS) which has forced many coal-fired power plants to retire. In 2014, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) noted that 9.5 percent of the coal generating capacity would retire rather than comply with MATS, and that another 20.4 percent of the capacity would either retire or need to add expensive retrofits to comply. EIA’s Annual Energy Outlook 2014 indicated that 60 gigawatts of coal-fired capacity would be retired by 2020 and 90 percent of those would retire by 2016, which was the first year of enforcement for MATS.

Burdensome regulations, state renewable portfolio standards requiring specified amounts of renewable power to be generated, and generous federal subsidies paved the way for wind and solar power to be constructed. The production tax credit (PTC), for example, is so lucrative that wind operators sometimes accept a negative price during periods of low demand in order to wipe out the competition from coal and nuclear plants. According to the Congressional Research Service, the PTC is the largest 2016 to 2020 energy-related tax expenditure to the Treasury at $25.7 billion.

Despite natural gas prices to electric utilities declining by 24 percent between 2005 and 2016 and coal prices declining by 11 percent in the last 5 years , average retail electricity prices in the United States have risen by 26 percent and average residential electricity prices have risen by 33 percent between 2005 and 2016. This increase is largely the result of the cost of new capacity that is being added as coal-fired power plants are being prematurely retired and as retrofits are added to meet regulations such as MATS.

As the Analysis Group report notes, in 2016, wind generation represented 5.6 percent of the U.S. generation market. Germany, by contrast, gets over 10 percent of its electricity from wind generation. But this has led to grid destabilization and prompted reform of renewable energy laws. Now, in fact, the German government is planning to limit the expansion of wind capacity in the northern part of the country to avoid overburdening the grid.

Thankfully, the Trump Administration has reset our course in the United States by putting the brakes on the Clean Power Plan and the Paris Agreement. As the North American Electric Reliability Corporation’s 2016 grid reliability report notes:

The CPP is expected to promote large-scale changes to the resource mix that could have reliability implications for planning reserve margins, system voltage support, frequency response, and other issues that would need to be addressed.

AWEA and the Analysis Group study authors both understate the role policy has played in their preferred energy source’s ascent and overstate the resiliency value that that source adds to the grid. In reality, wind generation has reached its current level of market penetration only through the aid of costly government tax incentives, garnered by groups like AWEA, that ultimately serve to diminish baseload capacity and reduce our grid’s reliability.

The post The Wind Lobby’s Preemptive Strike on the Perry Grid Study appeared first on IER.

from Raymond Castleberry Blog http://raymondcastleberry.blogspot.com/2017/06/the-wind-lobbys-preemptive-strike-on.html
via http://raymondcastleberry.blogspot.com

The Wind Lobby’s Preemptive Strike on the Perry Grid Study

In an April 14 memo circulated through the Department of Energy, Secretary Rick Perry ordered a 60-day DOE study of the electric grid examining “the extent to which continued regulatory burdens, as well as mandates and tax and subsidy policies, are responsible for forcing the premature retirement of baseload power plants.” In this era of overwrought political outrage, even an innocuous, consumer-focused initiative such as this grid study can become the focus of a partisan furor. And indeed this study has.

Just three days after Perry ordered the DOE study, American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) CEO Tom Kiernan issued a memo of his own laying out an explicit plan to delegitimize the project. The memo—obtained by the Daily Caller News Foundation, posted on the open-publishing website Scribd, and subsequently deleted—catalogued a series of actions AWEA would pursue to undermine DOE’s as-of-yet unpublished study.

As Kiernan wrote on April 17:

In response, AWEA has initiated the following steps…

-Refine message, including a statement for today’s media calls and interviews (attached at bottom with details and sources), which makes these points:

  • Diverse grid is more reliable: We have more fuel diversity than ever with wind’s recent additions, which has enhanced reliability and resilience (per recent studies by largest grid operator PJM, NERC, and others)
  • It’s the market: Low gas prices (sustained by a winter that was 5 degrees warmer than average and record expansion of natural gas pipeline capacity) are behind coal and nuclear’s market challenges.
  • Jobs: Wind already has more jobs than coal mining and is adding jobs fast, and these are long-term good jobs with benefits in rural and Rust Belt America.

-Discuss with contacts at DOE

-Find out who will do study at DOE and brief them on our analysis. (We have seen these arguments before and so have data/rebuttals etc. largely prepared, but are updating)

-Secure meeting with FERC to share AWEA analysis (as FERC may be involved in DOE analysis, would be involved in carrying out any potential proposed regulatory reforms, and FERC has its own proceedings going on related to subsidies and wholesale markets)

-Pull existing research together into tightly written blog article

-Consider our own counter study, whether by AWEA or commissioned from third party

-Prepare to debunk others’ statements or studies, for example by the Institute for Energy Research, Northbridge (which did Exelon study), et al

Today, AWEA followed through on its commitment, releasing the proposed third-party study, titled Electricity Markets, Reliability and the Evolving U.S. Power System, in conjunction with Analysis Group under the authorship of Paul Hibbard, Susan Tierney, and Katherine Franklin.

Unsurprisingly, the Analysis Group study obscures the role government policy has played at both a federal and state level in propping up wind generation at the expense of other energy sources.

Market forces are helping to change the mix of resources as the report indicates, but so are onerous regulations such as the Obama Administration’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standard (MATS) which has forced many coal-fired power plants to retire. In 2014, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) noted that 9.5 percent of the coal generating capacity would retire rather than comply with MATS, and that another 20.4 percent of the capacity would either retire or need to add expensive retrofits to comply. EIA’s Annual Energy Outlook 2014 indicated that 60 gigawatts of coal-fired capacity would be retired by 2020 and 90 percent of those would retire by 2016, which was the first year of enforcement for MATS.

Burdensome regulations, state renewable portfolio standards requiring specified amounts of renewable power to be generated, and generous federal subsidies paved the way for wind and solar power to be constructed. The production tax credit (PTC), for example, is so lucrative that wind operators sometimes accept a negative price during periods of low demand in order to wipe out the competition from coal and nuclear plants. According to the Congressional Research Service, the PTC is the largest 2016 to 2020 energy-related tax expenditure to the Treasury at $25.7 billion.

Despite natural gas prices to electric utilities declining by 24 percent between 2005 and 2016 and coal prices declining by 11 percent in the last 5 years , average retail electricity prices in the United States have risen by 26 percent and average residential electricity prices have risen by 33 percent between 2005 and 2016. This increase is largely the result of the cost of new capacity that is being added as coal-fired power plants are being prematurely retired and as retrofits are added to meet regulations such as MATS.

As the Analysis Group report notes, in 2016, wind generation represented 5.6 percent of the U.S. generation market. Germany, by contrast, gets over 10 percent of its electricity from wind generation. But this has led to grid destabilization and prompted reform of renewable energy laws. Now, in fact, the German government is planning to limit the expansion of wind capacity in the northern part of the country to avoid overburdening the grid.

Thankfully, the Trump Administration has reset our course in the United States by putting the brakes on the Clean Power Plan and the Paris Agreement. As the North American Electric Reliability Corporation’s 2016 grid reliability report notes:

The CPP is expected to promote large-scale changes to the resource mix that could have reliability implications for planning reserve margins, system voltage support, frequency response, and other issues that would need to be addressed.

AWEA and the Analysis Group study authors both understate the role policy has played in their preferred energy source’s ascent and overstate the resiliency value that that source adds to the grid. In reality, wind generation has reached its current level of market penetration only through the aid of costly government tax incentives, garnered by groups like AWEA, that ultimately serve to diminish baseload capacity and reduce our grid’s reliability.

The post The Wind Lobby’s Preemptive Strike on the Perry Grid Study appeared first on IER.