Vantage team member, Kevin Clark, at HeroConf 2015 by PPC hero

My Trip to HeroConf 2015: PPC in Portland

It has been a week since my journey to Portland for the 2015 Hero Conference. If you don’t know, no, it’s not a celebration of the best and brightest Marvel or DC superheroes. It’s actually a celebration of the best and brightest PPC heroes, taking its name from the PPC resource repository, The self-proclaimed “unapologetically PPC conference series” is a three-year-running event dedicated to discussion and innovation in the PPC industry.

Last year, Steve and I attended HeroConf 2014 in Austin, Texas. I’d be without my partner in crime this time around, but I had his full blessing, and was looking forward to HeroConf 2015.

Arrival (April 25th)

Union Station in Portland, Oregon

Knowing that the conference speaker sessions would be occurring on April 27th and 28th, I gave myself some time to prepare, relax and enjoy myself, arriving in Portland on April 25th, the Saturday before the Monday-Wednesday conference.

That evening, I headed to the Portland Yard House restaurant. I was seeking the most relaxing activity known to man: a cold beer and a television displaying a hopeless home team in the playoffs.

My night’s quest experienced its first disappointment as I surveyed the plethora of televisions scattered around the place. Not even one was playing the Vancouver Canucks hockey game. I suppose it was an intelligent marketing decision by management, the Portland Trailblazers in their own playoffs and all. Still, I asked kindly for one TV to be turned northwards to the Canucks v. Flames, and a sympathetic bartender obliged with one of the Yard House TV fleet’s sets. The second disappointment came shortly after as the Canucks lost and were eliminated from the playoffs.

Sunday (April 26th)

Not letting the Canucks’ failures get me down, I headed out to explore Portland. Within a couple hours, I found myself at the Portland Saturday Market. And yes, it was a Sunday. The market runs both days of the weekend, which raises the question: why not just call it the “Portland Weekend Market?”

Image of Saturday market in Portland, Oregon

A couple of the more interesting vendors that I checked out and took photos of were:

Wandering Goods vendor at Portland Saturday Market

Wandering goods, which remained interestingly static

The man in the picture, Troy Green, who is also the owner, was a really great guy and a complete sales whiz. I hung out chatting with him for almost an hour and, on demand, he could grow and captivate an entire crowd in front of his booth.

Boasting handcrafted, organic, and vegan products that smelled delicious, I could see why people were interested. With his natural charisma and his obvious pride in his products, I have no doubt his business will wander to great places.

You can find Wandering Goods online at this address:

Clever Dork Art + Apparel, which was pretty clever

Clever Dork Art + Apparel, which was pretty clever

Here’s a close-up of the proudly Portlandian shirt:
Portland Shirt

After the market, I had a modest dinner at a local Mexican restaurant. The name of the place escapes me, but the feeling it gave my innards for the rest of the night was unforgettable.

Luckily, the names of some of the faces I recognized at the welcome reception that night were unforgettable too, and alongside them, I met some new faces too. An air of anticipation hung over the attendees as introductions and jokes were made. The conference would begin tomorrow and we were all excited.

Monday (April 27th)

Hallway to HeroConf Portland

What’s better than a fancy hallway to start a conference?

After registering myself, I went to the first sessions of the day.

Growing the team

One of the better sessions I attended on Monday was: “Building & Managing a World-Class PPC Team” with Jeff Allen, president of Hanapin Marketing and Ryan Dobrin, Director of Marketing at Sylvane.

This was a timely presentation as Vantage has been working to grow the team. Both Jeff and Ryan highlighted some key concepts for consistent, high-quality growth.

Slide from HeroConf

This was a particularly enlightening slide from the presentation

Leaving the session with dreams of empire, I began to decide on which presentation I would go to next. It’s always difficult to pinpoint which presenters will be the most educational when so many are available, and the expertise of the presenter during Q&A usually yields the most interesting information. But I made my decisions, and delved deeper into the wonderful world of PPC.

How to make people choose

At the end of the day, it was time to attend the closing keynote presentation, “The Context and The Power of Framing” with Tim Ash. Tim is the CEO of SiteTuners and he literally wrote the book on Landing Page Optimization. Here it is.

This presentation was all about the psychology behind the conversion process. Tim stressed the value of landing page testing as well as various conversion-rate-optimization practices that some digital marketers might neglect. The buzzphrase was “irrational neuromarketing,” and the fundamentals of his strategy were to:

  • Limit Choice
  • Make choices obvious
  • Create bias visually
  • Manipulate context and order
  • Understand that prices are pain

Learning was done for the day, and it was time for my own “irrational neuromarketing” at the Bing Bar Takeover event. The irrational side of my brain encouraged the drinks, and I like to think I did some ‘neuromarketing’ as I ‘networked’ and discussed the day’s sessions with fellow PPCers.

Bing Bar Takeover

Bing Bar Takeover at HeroConf 2015

There were sumo suits!

And here’s some swag from the event:
Swag from HeroConf 2015

An Announcement

Sea Man at HeroConf 2015
I would also like to use this post to announce to the world that I am actually “Sea Man” (they encouraged us to come up with our own names) your pay per click saviour. You can’t see it in the photo, but my name was fully, unashamedly visible on my cape.

Tuesday (April 28th)

Being careful not to be too irrational the night before, I managed to get to bed at a reasonable time and wake up for the next day of conference sessions.


In the morning, my personal favourite presentation was titled “Open Your Eyes to Advanced AdWords Scripts.” Steve Hammer, president of RankHammer, had a great session in which he broke down JavaScript. Steve emphasized the power of scripts, and hoped that we would try to create our own.

I have plenty of experience with AdWords scripts, including making minor modifications to make pre-written scripts suit our needs, but this session got me excited to really learn JavaScript.


Photobooth at HeroConf 2015

Between all of the serious learning, it’s important to take some time to dress up as northwestern lumberjack-hipsters with axes and swords. Torey, my cool beans friend, recognized this fact too, and together we entered the HeroConf photobooth.


Bryan Sise, Twitter Man, at HeroConf 2015
The product marketing team lead of Twitter, Bryan Sise, led the final keynote presentation of the conference. In his session, “Every Tweet Sends Signals: How to Tap Into Intent on Twitter,” Bryan did a great job of introducing Twitter ads to those who might have previously been intimidated by the platform. He showed us how the platform is similar to keyword targeting in search engines.

But the Twitter advertising platform is also different. Bryan made sure to highlight that “people don’t tweet the same way they search.”

Twitter Slide from HeroConf 2015
He explained that when people write something in Twitter they are writing to real people, not a robot (i.e., Google search), and that people are not actively searching for your product, so targeting on Twitter is more about people and their “moments.”

Key ideas that I took from Bryan’s presentation were:

    • Brainstorm moments when a person might be open to your message
    • Identify moments of emerging intent
    • Users love it when brands add value to their everyday lives
    • Twitter is a different bird (ha)

Conference Night Two

Following the keynote presentation was a networking session from 5-6pm. After meeting some intriguing fellow PPC heroes, I had a quick dinner and prepared myself for the rest of the evening.

It was time for the second night of festivities at 8pm. Along with other HeroConf attendees; I made my way to the Comedy Takeover at Helium Comedy Club in Portland. It would be another night of fun, laughter, and surprisingly educational discussion as conversation meandered through work, play, and the best super heroes of all time.

Departure (April 29th)

Wednesday was scheduled for workshops, but I’m a busy man and there was work to do back at the office, so off I went to the airport.

Closing Thoughts

Image of HeroConf 2015 from Vantage team member, Kevin Clark
Something I have found over the years, attending conferences, is that I find the greatest value comes from conversing and sharing experiences and learning with my peers and competitors. HeroConf Portland was no different.

Although sometimes conference presentations can end up being entry-level or not very in-depth due to time constraints and the many levels of experience of the attendees they are catering to, the sessions are always great conversation starters and the opportunity to ask the speakers or peers questions specific to challenges we are currently facing is invaluable.

At the end of the conference, it is always exciting to hear the locale announcement for next year’s. The grand reveal had not one, but two locations. People gasped in amazement. The first location was Philadelphia, and it would be 2016’s North American HeroConf host.

The second city was London, England (next time Ontario). It will be the first HeroConf outside of the United States so it is kind of a big deal. Occurring in October of this year, it will give the PPC heroes across the pond a more convenient chance to save the PPC world, one keyword at a time.