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In Memoriam: Andy Bourland

  |  February 27, 2009   |  Comments

The legacy of ClickZ's late cofounder.

There's absolutely no reason Andy Bourland and I should ever have become friends. In fact, I was fully prepared for his full animosity and mistrust, given the circumstances of our first meeting.

"Oh, he really wanted to hate you!" affirmed Erin Brenner, ClickZ's longtime copy chief -- nine years after our first face-to-face.

You see, Andy cofounded ClickZ. I was an avid reader, but we'd never actually crossed paths until he sold his "baby." I was the interloper hired by ClickZ's new owner to take over what he started. Andy didn't handpick me to be his successor. He had no say whatsoever in the matter -- nor in anything else that happened to ClickZ over most of the next decade.

Like any founder in his right mind, he was supposed to regard me with a mixture of suspicion, mistrust, and resentment. Not what I wanted, of course, but what I expected and prepared myself for. Human nature is, after all, human nature.

But this was Andy Bourland, and his nature was different. Any prickly animosity between us lasted maybe 10 minutes. But our warm and supportive friendship grew and endured nearly 10 years, until his untimely death.

A Friend, a Confidant, an Inspiration

After a long and difficult illness, Andrew Rhodes Bourland died on February 16.

Whether you knew Andy or not, ClickZ's readers and, indeed, the entire interactive marketing community, have lost a friend, a confidant, and a beacon of inspiration, not to mention one of the founding fathers of interactive advertising.

When he founded ClickZ in 1997, digital marketing was in its infancy. Had it not been for Andy's inspiration, the pioneers of this emerging discipline wouldn't have had a place to come together to share lessons and best practices, to debate, and very often, to reach consensus on what the industry should be doing and where it should be going.

Andy didn't stop there. He was an inspirational speaker -- if a nervous one. His elegance on the podium never once belied the fact he was overcome with stage fright as he frantically threw himself into last-minute revisions of each presentation. He worked so hard to excel, a side of him few saw, because he made it all look so easy.

He sweated every step.

And he was so generous. He answered every e-mail. In fact, he counted among his closest friends hundreds of people he never met, except in cyberspace, always sustaining his end of the dialogue. On both ClickZ and his own blog, Bourland.com, the notices of his death are filled with condolences from admirers who note, "I never met him, but..."

Andy died as openly, honestly, and frankly as he lived. His death, at 53 years of age, marks the first great loss of a pioneer in our field. I haven't spoken with anyone who recalls losing one of our own in this nascent discipline, nor losing someone who courageously blogged his feelings as he faced death -- a task taken up by his brother, Roger, and wife Jeanne when Andy no longer had enough strength for the task. Andy would have approved of the fact that those who knew him and those whose lives he touched were collectively mourning his passing on Twitter and Facebook, on blogs, and in online discussion groups.

A Lifelong Network

Peter Shankman was kind enough to drive me from New York to Andy's funeral last week, in a pretty, Andover, MA, church. On the way, we talked about how Andy had touched our lives and the lives of so many people we knew.

It was then that we realized what Andy's legacy really is. If I hadn't known Andy, I wouldn't have been in the car with Peter that day. I wouldn't have known the dozens of columnist who have so generously shared their thoughts and insights with ClickZ's readers these past years, nor the hundreds of readers I've had the pleasure of working with and sharing ideas with over the past decade.

Andy Bourland was more than a publisher. He was a super-connector who indelibly changed the lives of the people he touched. I'm in contact with dozens of people on a daily basis whom I know because of Andy -- people who are defining and shaping this still-growing industry. My circle of friends and professional contacts alike comprises hundreds more people who all somehow connect back to Andy. And all these people in turn connect to, and are connected by, Andy.

Andy's legacy is more than ClickZ. It's these thousands and thousands of connections he nurtured and fostered, all so we could work in this industry a little bit better and a little bit stronger.

The guy who wasn't supposed to like me, who didn't have to be my friend, was never anything but supportive and complimentary. The last time I saw Andy was at the celebration of ClickZ's first decade. Then, as always, he was bubbling with compliments and enthusiasm for the publication. Then, as always, he never missed an opportunity to tell me that "ClickZ is better than it's ever been" and that my team was doing a better job with it than he ever could have.

He didn't have to say that, and in all likelihood he wasn't being 100 percent truthful. But Andy never, ever dispensed criticism. Just an endless flow of support, encouragement, and praise.

That's what kind of friend Andy Bourland was. I'm sure it was equally true of Andy as a husband and father, as a brother, and as an in-law.

Whether or not you knew him, if you're an interactive marketer, Andy was rooting for you, too. With his death we've lost one of our earliest, most eternally passionate advocates.

Please, take just one moment out of your day today and reflect on all that you -- that we all -- owe to Andrew Rhodes Bourland.

The Internet Oldtimers Foundation, a body with which Andy was deeply involved, has launched a mentor program in Andy's memory. If you'd like to adopt a protégé and help nurture his or her career in the industry, please consider applying to be a mentor in the program. An application can be downloaded here.

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Rebecca Lieb

Rebecca was previously VP, U.S. operations of Econsultancy, an independent source of advice and insight on digital marketing and e-commerce. Earlier, she held executive marketing and communications positions at strategic e-services companies, including Siegel & Gale, and has worked in the same capacity for global entertainment and media companies, including Universal Television & Networks Group (formerly USA Networks International) and Bertelsmann's RTL Television. As a journalist, she's written on media for numerous publications, including "The New York Times" and "The Wall Street Journal." Rebecca spent five years as Variety's Berlin-based German/Eastern European bureau chief. Rebecca also taught at New York University's Center for Publishing, where she also served on the Electronic Publishing Advisory Group. Rebecca, author of "The Truth About Search Engine Optimization," was ClickZ's editor-in-chief for over seven years.

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