Synopsis – With the calendar filling up with search engine marketing related events for the coming year, it’s time to start deciding which conferences you are going to attend. Perhaps you always go to one particular conference, and will do so again this year, or maybe you are going to expand your horizons and try to swing a trip to an event you’ve always wanted to go to in a city you’ve always wanted to visit. Either way, you need to plan your time wisely and prepare in advance, in order to get every last bit of goodness out of your time at these educational events, especially in tough economic times.
In his article, “What Should You Really Do At Digital Marketing Conferences?” Jeremy Burton discusses the four types of conference attendees and what each is looking for in marketing events such as these. Taking each of the four types (the marketing professional, the exhibitor, the industry novice, and the job seeker), Jeremy uses his experiences at numerous digital marketing events to offer advice on how best to spend your time there. Of course, a large part of your time will be spent at the variety of educational seminars and presentations that are a staple of conferences, but Jeremy offers concrete tips on how to approach the networking opportunities on the exhibit floor to make the most of your time there.
The complete article follows …
What Should You Really Do At Digital Marketing Conferences?
If your last digital marketing conference provided you with nothing more than a bag full of ink pens and promotional trinkets, then you missed a significant opportunity to grow professionally and personally. Having attended two key digital marketing conferences in the last couple of months (ad:tech San Francisco as an exhibitor and Search Engine Strategies as an attendee), I have some observations I would like to share.
If you are attending digital marketing conferences, odds are you fall into one of the following roles:
1. You are a marketing professional and attending the conference is an exercise your company promotes for your professional development;
2. You are an exhibitor/vendor using the conference as a platform to sell your service or product;
3. You are a novice, and this is an early step in your education process; or
4. You are a hard-core job seeker within the industry.
Of course, other reasons exist, but most of the people I meet at conferences fall into one of these categories. Let’s examine each a little more closely and talk about some things each class of attendee should keep in mind during their conference stint.
1. Marketing Professional — As a solid marketer in your field, attending the conference helps you fulfill an employer’s mandate for career development. The digital conferences I have attended usually provide both topical seminars and an exhibitor area where vendors promote their offerings. As a marketer, online or otherwise, take the opportunity to interact with others (yes, that means talking to people outside your own company). Doing so will yield incredible opportunities to learn about product ideas, industry trends, and other key information that can position you favorably in your company and alert you to potential threats in your career path. This type of information provides you a competitive edge both internally and externally. You don’t want to be the last person to find out that your skills are on a technical deathwatch list.
2. Exhibitor — You are attending to directly (or indirectly) offer your product or service. Indirect offers take the form of branding opportunities or lead generation. From my recent experience, I found it worthwhile to take some time to walk around the other exhibitor booths while listening carefully. You can discover a lot about your competitors by do nothing more than listening to them deliver their value statements to prospective customers and then discretely listening to what those customers discuss then and directly after they walk away from the booth.
After your “mission impossible” impersonation, make a point of taking a moment for some honest self-reflection. From what you have seen and heard, several questions you should be asking yourself right about now include: Is my offering compelling? Does it compare favorably to other competitors at the conference? Are there new (disruptive) technologies or trends that will impact the viability of my offering? What is my company doing well and what could we really improve on to be more competitive? Take along a legal notepad and jot down your discoveries, thoughts, and impressions.
If you are working in your employer’s exhibit, continue to take notes on the common relevant questions asked by attendees. If you don’t take the time to note these learnings immediately, you are probably going to have a hard time trying to recall the information later, especially at heavily attended conferences where you may literally speak to thousands of people over a two-day period.
3. Industry Novice — You are attending because you want to know more. Maybe you are starting or thinking about a career change, thinking about starting a new business, or believe you may become an enthusiast of the technology or industry. Develop contacts with the exhibitors and some of the attendees. Take note of the companies that are exhibiting and where they are located on the floor space. You will get a rough idea of what a company is willing to spend by where they are located – a good location generally equates to higher exhibitor space cost. If the company is willing to spend big, it’s a good bet that they are doing well.
Also note the number of companies offering similar products and services. This can be a good guide to the level of competitiveness and the maturity of the industry. If you uncover a new technology and few if any exhibitors, this might indicate an early trend, which can yield considerable up-side opportunities for new startups. Talk to these companies and get a feel for their level of competence.
4. Job Seeker — Industry-specific conferences are an excellent venue for gaining employer referrals. Please note that I didn’t say “jobs,” but “referrals.” If you are specifically targeting an industry conference as a path to a new career, don’t go with the intent on handing out resumes. The larger companies often send account managers, sales associates, and/or junior managers to staff their booths, though smaller companies typically send higher level employees. The best approach is the networking approach. Use the opportunity to talk with the exhibitor staff about the company, express interest in the industry, provide some relevant background experience indirectly in the conversation, and ask about the path to employment at their business.
If you do find a senior-level employee, ask him or her for general advice on how to get into the industry. Most senior-level employees will usually provide the advice freely. Your objective should be a referral by your contact to someone within the company who is either a senior-level employee or someone in human resources. Whatever you do, avoid the following: (1) don’t bring up that you are unemployed or hate your current job; (2) never act or say you are desperate (even if you are); (3) do not freely distribute your resume at the exhibitor booths (you’ll look desperate and stupid); and (4) don’t be overly assertive (you have to create the opportunity for the exhibitor to want to provide the referral, not coerce it).
Industry conferences like ad:tech, Search Engine Strategies, and others provide a great venue for learning outside the actual seminars. Most attendees don’t take the time to really use the conference to its maximum learning and earning benefit. With an anemic economy and an ever-evolving workplace, do yourself a favor by expending a little extra effort. Be valuable, not replaceable.