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Search Marketing’s Worst-Dressed Best Brains – Where Are They Now?

Posted August 16th, 2011 by Andrew Goodman

Disclaimer: no brain cells were used in the creation of this post.


As our industry matures, I sometimes find myself asking: “Where has the fun gone?”

Another question I ask, when I look back on something that happened to us “a couple of years ago,” is “what!! how did seven years go by that fast!?”

In this case I’m referring, of course, to Meredith A. Roth’s infamous “worst dressed list” for the “best brains” in search marketing, which came out at SES San Jose just over seven years ago. As a hook, it wasn’t bad: a geek-focused Mr. Blackwell on heels. Had skins been thicker and the tone less catty, this thing could have had legs.

Getting on the list could have been seen as a form of flattery, but at the time, few if any of those making the list reported being flattered. That despite a somewhat flattering intro:

Wanna hook up with the smartest people in the Search Engine Marketing biz? Look for the worst dressed. It’s SEO Tip number one: The brains of Search Engine Marketing and Search Engine Optimization are sartorially challenged.

As Ms. Roth so dismissively chose to focus on list members’ external appearance, I figured it might be worthwhile to check in on how those making the list of fared in their attempts to piece a career together… and, how are they dressing these days?

One inescapable conclusion seems to be that there was something to the notion that eventually, no matter who you are, you gotta clean up. And… could Ms. Roth have had an actual influence on these folks’ wardrobe strategies?

Here goes, with a recap of the unlucky winners, in reverse order.

10. Chris Sherman. Chris was tagged as a devotee of “business-too-casual.” This jab didn’t make much of a dent in Chris’s way of life. All he’s done since is continue to lead the industry as a partner in Third Door Media, Executive Editor of Search Engine Land, and author. What people don’t realize is Chris isn’t dressing for the conferences; he’s a true traveler who has been everywhere and needs to be ready with comfortable shoes and indestructible clothing to explore every corner of a city or the top of a mountain. Chris’s fast getaways are legendary and I’m lucky to count him as a great friend who will often take me along on the expedition.

9. Greg Jarboe, the “bearded guy you’d vote least likely to be in public relations.” OK, but answer me this: have you heard of him? I thought so. Greg has been the backbone of many SES’s since, and has evolved his firm and himself, including expertise on YouTube strategies and a book to match. This despite the views of Ms. Roth and one senior executive from across the pond who (it can now be revealed) opined that “we’ve got to get Jarboe out of those horrible jumpers.”

8. Bryan Eisenberg. Have a good look at Bryan’s photo on his website. That’s the Bryan Eisenberg you see today. It’s undoubtedly true that the best revenge is living well. Some time after making the infamous list, Bryan embarked on a personal journey that included a weight loss in excess of 95 lbs. Formerly, he packed as much as 290 lbs. on his 6’2″ frame. There is less of him to love now, but all of us who count him as a friend are happy that he’ll be around much longer to spellbind us with deep-seated understanding of the online user experience. And yes, as a result of all that, he has new clothes.

6. Shari Thurow, Karen Breen Vogel, and Stacy Williams were singled out for looking like a “PTA panel.” Not only did they maintain their high visibility in the industry, but I’m pretty sure I’ve witnessed several rounds of shopping in the two of these three I know well. I guess we were all just too busy to dress ourselves in the old days. Not that we aren’t still busy. Shari, for one, has published a couple of books since her original groundbreaking work.

5. I’m pretty sure Heather LLoyd-Martin didn’t need any outside prompting to be aware of her “skirts being up to here” in 2004.

4. Detlev Johnson? Oh, what am I getting ¬†myself into. Well suffice to say this: no one’s going to accuse Disa Johnson of looking like she is on a “PTA panel”.

3. Kevin Lee‘s success is obvious proof of the “wear your boothwear” strategy so derided by Ms. Roth. We assume that Kevin did not, nor did he wish to, show Ms. Roth whether the “Did-it duds came in undies too.”

2. “Industry maverick” Mike Grehan was singled out for his look being “100% spinal tap,” but “catch his session and you’ll be thoroughly entertained, enthralled, and educated.” Mike, tied for my very best friend in the industry, has certainly put on a show since. Ms. Roth wouldn’t have been the only one to kid him for his “look” at the time. Since becoming an avidly-shopping New Yorker, Mike has updated that look at least once. Today at the SES San Francisco show, he wins my award for “best dressed at the conference”. On top of the perfect suit and tie, I just need to know where to get a pair of those perfectly-matching shades. Since taking over the job as VP of Global Content for Incisive Media three years ago, Mike’s career dial has gone to “11.” According to his bio, Mike is supposedly releasing a new book this summer.

1. Danny Sullivan. It seems such a long time ago that “vintage Danny” was “dressing British,” perhaps because he resided in a quaint village near Stonehenge and Madonna’s house and could only get to London occasionally for a quick dash into one of those stores that sold stuffy criss-cross ties meant to be worn with bespoke finery. Today, as we’re kept well aware by his frequent tweets and twitpics, Danny leads with California casual style from his rollerblading home base in Newport Beach, CA. In other words, the look that Rand Fishkin has unsuccessfully tried to copy. When you have a combined 200,000 in legit twitter followers, though, does it really look like anyone needs to copy anyone else?

This brings me to the subject matter of my next post: “facial hair of SEM top 10 list”. But this is for another time (and after I have six months to grow the beard).

3 Responses to “Search Marketing’s Worst-Dressed Best Brains – Where Are They Now?”

  1. Greg Jarboe says:

    Back on July 28, 2004, Roth issued a press release announcing her list of the “Best of the Best (and Worst Dressed)” at SES. More than seven years ago, she said, “Wanna hook up with the smartest people in the Search Engine Marketing biz? Look for the worst dressed. It’s SEO Tip number one: The brains of Search Engine Marketing and Search Engine Optimization are sartorially challenged.” After that, I stopped wearing “those horrible jumpers” and started sporting preppy sweaters.

  2. Marc Poirier says:

    What about that “Mikkel” guy in the orange suit?? :-)

  3. Jill Whalen says:

    Slow news day, Andrew? :)

    Actually, I’m surprised I escaped those old lists. I was and am most likely the worst dressed female search marketer of all time. Which is okay by me. I hate clothes shopping with a passion!


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