With Search Engine Strategies San Jose just around the corner, I thought it timely and appropriate to share insights on how you can get the most out of marketing conferences.
TopRank is very active attending, speaking and blogging a variety of internet marketing events, conferences and workshops. These aren’t the only reasons to attend a marketing conference though and the next 9 posts will offer some excellent insights from TopRank as well as a incredible mix of industry thought leaders that may just compound the value of your staff already attending plus motivate you to send more.
Recession or not, look no further than the headlines in any business publication and you’ll see increasing numbers of articles offering advice on how companies can best deal with tighter marketing budgets.
Combine the need to generate more marketing performance with fewer resources, continuous changes in the online marketing industry and increasing numbers of companies bringing search marketing functions in house, and you have a formidable training challenge.
There are many options for companies to train their new internet marketing staff and to keep tenured employees up to date. Conferences such as: ad:tech, Search Engine Strategies, Search Marketing Expo, DMA conferences, numerous regional events and an increasing number of web based offerings including SEMPO Institute and the DMA Search Engine Marketing Certification program provide a wealth of training opportunities.
However, conferences are not inexpensive. Add travel, hotel, pre/post training and conference fees as well as meals and incidentals and companies are paying $2500 – $5000 per employee per conference. Plus there is the cost of time away from the office not performing billable work. Such costs in a budget conscious marketing environment make it even more important for companies and individuals to get the most out of their educational investments.
Despite these costs, TopRank’s agency’s conference involvement is very active involving speaking, blogging and attending as a delegate 12-15 search marketing, public relations and interactive marketing events per year. The experience from promoting, attending and liveblogging numerous marketing conferences has resulted in a valuable collection of insights that have enabled a substantial return.
Whether the investment in attending a conference is on the company’s dime or the individual, it’s important that conference attendees get the most out of their time at events by setting goals. Managers sending individuals to conferences should be clear about expectations. Company staff should be sure to talk with others within the organization or teams that have attended the same or similar events to gain their insight.
Depending on the purpose for attending a conference, goals may vary. Here are some common goals that TopRank has identified based on the various reasons for attending any kind of marketing conference:
- Networking – how many qualified prospects, marketing partners, vendors to outsource to and job candidates will you meeting? Each day, tally them up and plan how you will follow up.
- Knowledge – how many sessions will you attend and how will you capture the information? Notes, photos, video (where allowed) When meeting new people, discuss the sessions with them. Compare notes – it’s a great way to network and to get other opinions. Before the conference, make a grid or a plan for which specific sessions you’ll be attending. Often times, there is not much time between sessions and the difference between getting a good seat and standing room only can be a matter of minutes.
- Content – how will you leverage your conference experience to create new content for your company blog, articles, or process documentation? Set goals for how many you’ll create each day. The content you capture and create can supply a company blog with numerous posts and show clients, staff and prospective clients that you are on top of what’s happening in the industry. At TopRank, our staff is required to publish at least 3 blog posts for each day of conference attended. Set goals for how many blog posts, articles or other types of content will be created each day of the conference. It doesn’t have to be all text – take photos of people, and presentation slides. Take videos where allowed.
- Knowledge Transfer – How will you pass on the information you’ve acquired to the rest of the team? TopRank staff take the highlights and any specific tactics of use and create presentations which they share with the rest of the TopRank team. Knowing you will be required to present the information you are gaining with the team back at the office helps focus on takeaways and practical interpretations of the new information.
- Socialize – Where there’s a conference, there’s a party. After hours events are exceptional opportunities for conference attendees to relax, network and share information. Make no mistake, post session networking can be an art form. Make a point to relax and have fun, but be clear about objectives and make a goal of attending a dinner each night of the event if possible. Some dinners are a tradition amongst long time friends, some are sponsored by vendors and some are at hoc events that occur as a result of likeminded individuals wanting to continue the day’s discussion.
As you can see, there are many more opportunities to get value from marketing conference participation than keeping up to date with an industry. Pre conference goal setting and planning, well defined processes as well as follow up and post event knowledge sharing can all multiple the value organizations realize by sending employees to educational events.
Not all organizations are positioned to take full advantage of these insights, but through simple analysis, it can become clear pretty quickly how much is being left on the table or to competitors who are sending the same numbers of people and incurring the same costs.
Understand the conference offerings, set goals and make the time to pre-plan conference involvement. Leverage content creation, networking, recruiting, competitive intelligence as well as prospecting opportunities and industry conferences can move pretty quickly from an expense with an uncertain effect to an investment with multiples of return.
So what do other conference organizers, programmers, speakers and attendees have to say? Watch for the next in our series of posts on getting the most out of internet marketing conferences from Brad Berens, Kevin Ryan, Rebecca Lieb, Robert Scoble, Danny Sullivan, Chris Sherman, David Berkowitz, Heather Lloyd Martin and Michael Brito.
What are your best tips on getting more out of conferences, workshops and training seminars? Please share and we’ll pick the best suggestions for something pretty cool from TopRank.
(This post is a version of a TopRank article that ran at iMedia Connection “Get better returns on your conference investment“.)