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I Took A Year Off From Conferences, Here’s What Happened

The last twelve months have been the busiest in our business’ history. We rebranded our MarTech publication, moved our offices after 7 years, and honestly rebuilt our services from the ground up. I decided to skip conferences during the year to focus on the business. In fact, I didn’t even make a trip to Florida in the entire time, where I love getting a rest and visiting my Mom. (Mom wasn’t too happy about this!)

Prior to this period, I spoke at virtually every major marketing conference in North America and spoke overseas as well. In fact, one of my favorite conferences is happening right now – Social Media Marketing World. I absolutely love speaking at conferences – it energizes me and I meet many of you who I have digital relationships with but never met before in person. I’d like to share how it’s impacted me and my business.

Skipping Marketing Conferences – The Good

Interestingly, a few years ago, our business was largely composed of clients from outside the midwest. We had clients throughout the coastlines and some very, very large brands. While that was great work and coastal budgets spend well in the midwest, we struggled to maintain those relationships.

Today, all of our clients are in the midwest and we have great relationships with them. If they run into trouble, I just jump into the car and drive over to help them. Not really an option with out-of-state clients. So, if you want to build an amazing presence at home, attending marketing conferences isn’t really a necessity.

As I watch my conference-hopping friends online, I have mixed feelings. Watching the travel headaches and the families left behind isn’t fun. I don’t miss airports, living out of my luggage, and the time away from work and family.

Did I miss learning? I’ll be honest that I didn’t really learn anything at any major conference that I didn’t already learn online. In fact, by focusing on client work and their results, I most likely learned more by keeping my head in the game here at home. 

I find conference presenters entertaining, but the depth and detail is often lacking enough for me to put their insight to work at home. If you’re speaking at a conference, that’s actually your goal… since that means one of those companies in the audience may hire you to consult with them.

Skipping Conferences – The Bad

As I mentioned above, our client-base churned away from large brands and national clients. I’m still doing one project working with Dell, but it’s not a typical engagement for our agency as I’m co-hosting a podcast series that’s releasing soon. In fact, my next big trip will be to Dell EMC World. That opportunity arose through a colleague who worked and traveled to Dell, though, so I can’t really count it in this article.

Not working with large brands does reduce your profile a little in the industry. It’s a terrible thing to say, but companies in the Midwest don’t work with agencies who don’t work with large brands. Thankfully, we’ve assisted enough large brands that people take us seriously in town.

Let’s face it, companies who attend conferences have a marketing budget. Seriously, there was very little qualifying of leads at a conference… if their company was spending a few thousand dollars on a conference ticket, they recognized the investment in marketing was a great one. I could meet ten businesses at a conference and they all had budget. I can meet ten businesses at home and one of them has budget. Conferences are great investment in your sales strategy.

While I mentioned that I didn’t learn anything at conferences, the time away from work and family to focus is missed. I found my evenings sitting at the bar with fellow marketers exhilarating. We often shared successes and failures that couldn’t be mentioned from a speech or presentation, and hearing those truths was energizing since you knew you weren’t alone in your own struggles and successes.

Skipping Conferences – The Ugly

Do you see my name, Douglas Karr, shared in top lists? Do you see me on national podcasts? Do you see me in national webinars? Nope. While I have grown our readership online, continue to get a ton of listeners on our marketing interviews, and launched an amazingly successful MarTech community, I’ve lost a ton of the spotlight I once had.

I have no doubt that attending conferences, supporting those conferences, and getting some drinks at the bar with my peers kept me in the spotlight. 

The digital frontier is an amazing one, but humans are human and still need contact with one another to make an indelible impression. While I’m a superstar to my dog Gambino, I’m not listed in many of the Top 100’s online in the last year. When I was attending conferences, I was always listed in the Top 25 of my peers.

So… Does It Matter?

Whether it matters or not depends on what your goals are. If it’s all about being recognized, then yes. If it’s all about ego, then absolutely yes. If it’s about working with large profile brands, then yes. If it’s about meeting leaders in your industry, then yes. If it’s about learning your craft? Meh.

For me, personally, the jury is still out. I love the spotlight, but I’m not sure it made a lot of sense financially. My business is healthier today than it’s ever been. And, we’re making a huge impression at home in Indianapolis, building out a studio in a coworking facility where we’re mentoring young businesses, providing opportunities to students in town, and helping many of the non-profits in town.


© 2016 DK New Media.

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