Why Mozcon 2014 Made Me Proud, And It Has Zero To Do With Inbound Marketing

Why Mozcon 2014 Made Me Proud, And It Has Zero To Do With Marketing

My head is still swimming from all the information I took in at Mozcon 2014. As someone who has attended hundreds of shows and conferences in the last decade, it’s says something that Mozcon has become my favorite event ever after just two visits (2013 and 2014). The comradery, the information, the people, the setting (Seattle rocks!) and the spirit of the affair serves to light a fire that continues to burn long after the event is exhausted.

This year, however, Mozcon went quite a bit further, by making me proud.

The event opened (after Rand’s official opening) with a strong female speaker, Kerry Bodine, who delivered the goods on customer experience, then never let up, with three other awesome female presenters—Lindsay Wassell, Cindy Krum and Lexi Mills—rounding out the first day.

The pride I felt had to do with the number of women presenters, the substance of their talks and knowing they’d killed it, shutting up the critics (not likely, but hopefully) who normally huddle after such events and nitpick every damn thing. As each female speaker owned the stage that first day, I was continually saying to myself, “What you got now?” to critics real and imagined.

Let me be clear: This isn’t a male vs. female thing, and I’m not grasping at straws trying to make something out of nothing. What I’m voicing is an opinion based on my own observations. Is it scientific? No. Do critics nitpick men? Yes.

And this isn’t a Mozcon issue. It’s a some-of-us-are-jerks issue.

I’ve continually heard the whispers about females delivering “fluff-filled” presentations that aren’t data-driven or tactical enough for a given audience. These “assessments” have always struck me as odd, especially since the presentations being attacked were often some of the strongest of the event, quashing any notions that the comments were merit-based.

It’s About The Substance Of The Information, Not About Who Is Delivering The Information

Last year’s Mozcon featured a strong lineup of women as well, including Dana DiTomaso,  Aleyda Solis, Karen McGrane (one of my content strategy crushes), Lena West, Annie Cushing (the inimitable one), Brittan Bright and Mackenzie Fogelson (my sister-from-another-mother), among others.

I was blown away by each of the presenters, women and men.

However, when Brittan Bright spoke about how relationships are essential to building a strong business, my internal dialogue was visceral, emotive and unfiltered: “I wonder if this audience is picking up what she’s putting down? This stuff is important. Relationships are ultimately what sinks or floats a business. It ain’t SEO or content or PPC.”

Later, during the party at the EMP, I overheard an interesting comment: “Yeah, today was good, but some of the stuff was…a little soft, squishy, not really applicable to what I do. I’d rather it have been more technical, or tactical. That’s just me.”

He gave no real indication of the specific talk he was referring took, but my ears perked up, given that Bright’s presentation was titled “Building Your Business: Relationship and Other Critical ‘Soft’ Skills,” and she had spoken earlier that day. The words incensed me.

As someone who’s spent the better part of a decade advising businesses in the areas of product design/innovation, PR, branding and content marketing, I’ve seen firsthand what elements of a enterprise places it closer to being a success: people, not products or services.

And the better a company is at managing those critical relationships, both early on as the company is expanding and later as the team has swelled to multiples of its original size, the better chance the enterprise has of being a success.

Again, I have no idea who, exactly, this person was singling out with his comments. Also, his was not an opinion that was shared by the larger group, in my opinion. It still grated on me.

The Marketing Community Should Build One Another Up

Earlier this year, I was privy to several Twitter conversations where people were discussing the dearth of women presenters, especially in technology. None of the reasons, er, excuses, given sufficed.

The ongoing discussion served to remind me of past conferences, where it always seemed that the women were being judged by a different, harsher standard than the men, even when the former delivered the same level of depth and analysis as the latter.

While I’m not convinced such feelings will subside anytime soon, those conferences and events that feature women presenters do pique my interest and arouse a sense of pride in me. First, I know the hosts don’t fall for the “we-can’t-find-women-presenters” B.S.

And most important, I know the audience is likely to gain a different perspective, one they may not hear otherwise.

As marketers, we have enough problems to deal with, whether from Google, clients or the overall pace of the industry we serve.

Shouldn’t we be actively building up one another instead of nitpicking every damn thing?

At any rate, I’m happy Mozcon once again delivered an amazing event, one that did not perpetuate the stereotypical crap experienced elsewhere.

I’m very interested to know your thoughts. Please share in the comments below.

About Ronell Smith

I'm digital strategist and content geek who's passionate about helping businesses wade through the B.S. and get the results they desire. I rant often about user experience, PR, SEO, branding, product innovation or content marketing. Otherwise, I'm just a boring nerd who dreams about disruptive innovation, long-form feature writing, nuclear physics, entomology and sniper rifles.

Filed under: Insights


Melissa Fach

Thanks, Ronell, for your thoughts about Mozcon and female speakers. There have been several presentations I have seen that were not helpful to me (by males and females), but were to others. I think people need to understand that not all sessions are tailored to their specific needs or wants. If you can get one good nugget of info or insight any presentation is a win.

Ronell Smith


I really struggled with this piece, for I knew it would make me deal with some feelings I wasn’t sure I was ready to share. I do get that not all presentations can be expected to benefit everyone, but I have a problem when I start seeing a trend where folks always ding some (womens’) presentations as “soft” when the facts (what they are ostensibly being judged on) suggest otherwise. Maybe I read too many social psychology books in college.

But in reaching out to several friends–a few of whom have attended at least one Mozcon–earlier in the week, my suspicions were confirmed: Folks consistently graded female presenters as less tactical, analytical.

Given this, I think it’s incumbent upon event hosts to be hyper-vigilant when selecting presenters, ensuring they will speak on a topic that offers value to as wide a swath of the core audience as possible.


Melissa Fach

Ronell, I totally get your point and I am honestly shocked that this occurs. I really had no idea…being woman people probably wouldn’t tell me.

I will say at a recent conference I was on a panel with all men. When it was over one guy got up and shook all the mens’ hands and just walked past me and didn’t say a word. I didn’t get the handshake 🙂 People show their true colors.

Ronell Smith

It’s funny you say that. When I broached this topic with friends this week, I did not share I was writing the blog. Just asking questions. In EVERY case, the females were unaware, but the men were very aware, though they chalked it up to women being “less data-focused,” often occupying “touchy-feely” parts of the business.

What irks me is not a single one of these guys would ever publicly voice such sentiments.

There is a quote from the 2001 film Hannibal that applies here: “People don’t always tell you what they are thinking; They just see to it that you don’t advance in life.”


Melissa Fach

Well, I am have always been more focused on what makes the sales and how to create websites, pages and marketing strategies that will convert. If that is “touchy-feely” to them, fine, but it is necessary. I can talk about data all day long, but that is what everyone is doing. Data + Strategy = win. You have to have both.

Dr. Pete

Somehow, we always find an excuse for why we’re not being sexist. I heard a ridiculous story from a popular (and highly-qualified) female speaker in the UX world. I’ll note that she’s a bit petite and looks a little younger than she is. She’s also a smoker.

Someone at a conference actually rated her down with a comment that was essentially “It’s a shame that a nice, young girl like that smokes.” I should note that we’re talking about her smoking outside, on a break, between sessions – she didn’t light up at the podium. What the hell does that have to do with anything related to her as a professional? I can’t imagine anyone making that comment about a male speaker. That was just outright sexism.

Melissa Fach

Wow, I just don’t get what the issue is? Too be perfectly honest I can’t believe in today’s world we still have this sexism issue.

Rand Fishkin

Actually, the reverse is true. Women speakers are, on average, rated lower by other women. Mozcon speaker scores if we excluded ratings from women attendees would be higher for women and a little lower for men – very, very odd!

Melissa Fach

Rand, I will say one well-known SEO, that is a woman, openly tried to slam me and make me look bad in a hangout. It was a total shocker. The comment came out of nowhere and added nothing to the discussion. I believe it was her way of making me look bad. Perhaps we just need to ignore the negative folks and embrace all those that lift us up. They bring more to the table anyway. We all need to support each other, as Ronell says not pick each other apart.

Ronell Smith

That’s what I say. Quash the negativity. As Dr. Pete wrote: If they grace the stage, they deserve to be there.

Ronell Smith


I’m not at all surprised. I’ve found that women MORE readily singled out female presenters and, seemingly without realizing it, shared comments like “watered-down,” “lacking data” and “not deserving” the stage. This is one reason I was adamant in writing that this is NOT a man vs. women issue.

Dr. Pete

Thanks for this, Ronell. We’ve definitely gotten some flack for pushing so hard for 50/50 representation at MozCon, and I was discussing this with my wife and a female friend (who’s in academia) last night when I think I finally wrapped my head around it. Rand and Sarah simply believe this – there are more than enough qualified women in this industry to fill half a conference roster. So, we’re going to do our best to find them, even if that means looking a bit harder. In the end, you may not love every topic and anyone can have an off day or conference, but everyone on that stage is qualified to be there.

Ronell Smith

Dr. Pete,

I think it is imperative that Moz continue to push for representation. Not because it’s fair, but because it’s right. My line of thinking is shared with that of Clay Christensen, the father of Disruptive Innovation, who often talks of how it’s easier to live a life without compromises. He has always refused to work on weekends, owing to a commitment he made to his wife when they were first married. As you can expect, he went on to hold jobs where this practice led to significant strife. Yet in each case, he held his ground. His thought, and mine, is that once you give in, it becomes a constant struggle, with you having to decide when to hold your ground and when to give in.

I’m proud Moz is holding its ground and not perpetuating the stereotype that there are “not enough women… .”

Thanks for your comments.


Jen Sable Lopez

Thank you, thank you, thank you Ronell! This post makes me deliriously happy. Also, thank you to AuthorityLabs for publishing it!

We know that our industry has a majority of males, and we often ask ourselves how we get more females involved. To me, and most of us at Moz, this is exactly what we’re doing with MozCon. When you decide to attend a conference, there are a number of factors you take into consideration. Obviously price, topics, and learning capability are top on the list, but you also want to feel comfortable. As a woman, it can be intimidating to look at a speaker lineup that is mostly men. You question whether you should be there, and whether you’ll fit in.

Of course this isn’t just with men vs women, it also has to do with race, sexual orientation, and who knows what else. If you look at the speaker lineup for MozCon, it’s not just gender equal, we also strive for overall diversity. But, what’s the goal of this? We want every single person who comes to MozCon to feel welcome, and comfortable in the room. Which is why we work quite diligently to find the right people, with the right topics, with the best expertise, who also show the true diversity of our industry.

Now, back to the female topic. This year was the highest percentage of women we’ve ever had, a whopping 31%. Every year this number increases, and I strongly believe it increases because women feel more and more comfortable coming to the event because they are represented. They are not represented by “fluff”, they are represented by Cindy Krum who is *the* expert on mobile SEO, and Nathalie Nahai, who is *the* expert on web psychology, and Annie Cushing who is actually known as the “data lady”. We don’t mess around, we find the top of the top in both men and women.

None of this is to say that we’re perfect. We work every year on improving the show, and we always takes comments and suggestions into consideration for the next show. But what I love, and what makes me damn proud to be a Mozzer is that we’re working to change the industry by making everyone feel comfortable. The more diverse our industry gets, the better we’ll all be for it.

Thank you again for bringing this topic up Ronell. It’s an important one!

Ronell Smith

The biggest area of struggle I had in writing this post was in not wanting to make it feel as though the headline was “Mozcon FINALLY has sufficient data-focused women presenters.” I wanted to share my thoughts, experiences and express my gratitude for what was a great show.

I hope the headline that was created by the event is “Mozcon 2014 Was The Best One Yet.” And when folks see that 31% of the presenters were women, they can feel however they want to feel about it. As a society, I’m tired of us catering to jerks.

Thanks very much for the comments, Jen.


Jen Sable Lopez

Actually that 31% was female attendees, we were right about 50% with female speakers. 🙂

Vikki Fraser

I felt the same when it came to the Q&A portion of a session (not MozCon) and I raised my hand, asked a pertinent question, and the (male) presenter sighs, gives me the “bless your pretty heart, get back in the kitchen” smile and proceeds to talk down to me. Then later have other colleagues say “I wondered that too, good question” Grrr.

Todd Mintz

Dr. Pete…I slag most anyone for tobacco use…no matter the gender :.) Point taken though and this is certainly an important conversation that needs to be had continually in our industry.

Erica McGillivray

Love this, Ronell. 🙂 I love hearing the change in tone year-over-year you’ve heard as an attendee because progress is a happening thing. I also like being able to take a moment to see that progress because I’m often like “we have a million more miles to go.”

Ronell Smith

Thank you, Erica for chiming in. It makes me proud that my #Mozfam is a trailblazer in so many important areas.


Amy Little

I’m one of those who lamented that the mix of topics from last year’s speakers leaned more on the “softer side” of marketing. And I certainly wasn’t making a gender comment by saying that, as some of the talks I enjoyed most were from women such as Annie Cushing, Karen McGrane and A. Litsa.

I work in a PR firm and we spend a great deal of time building relationships with our clients and helping them build relationships with audiences. It’s important for sure, but I attend MozCon specifically for the more technical and quantitative strategies that I don’t get as much of in my day-to-day. I wanted to comment here because I’m a feminist and a woman, and I would never want anyone to get the idea that my preference for technical presentation content is anything other than a sincere interest in learning to hone my technical SEO skills and more quantitatively measure the effects of SEO for my clients. And you know, my general tendency toward geek stuff.

I actually loved Brittan Bright’s presentation last year (and got the chance to tell her how much I liked it face-to-face during a lunch break this year!), but she didn’t tell me much that I didn’t already know from my experience with clients at our firm. Sarah Bird is an interesting woman and accomplished professional, but I didn’t take away very many lessons from her presentation in 2013 about company culture that we don’t already practice or have another policy in place for. (It’s a small firm. We have fun!) Both of these (and many of the others I didn’t get as many takeaways from) were excellent presentations, just not my favorites from the event.

I want to say that, as a woman, I have never felt second class at MozCon. Ours is one of the most inclusive and supportive communities in which I’ve ever participated, or else I’m really REALLY bad at interpreting social cues. I really appreciate the work that goes into ensuring this kind of atmosphere, not only from the organizers of the event, but also from the attendees. I hate that “soft skills” is apparently code language for “women’s work,” and I sincerely apologize if anyone took my comments as anything beyond my literal preference to learn more technical aspects of marketing instead of relationship-building.

Thanks for this post, Ronell. You’ve done a great job at opening the conversation a bit wider on this touchy subject.

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