Trade organizations. Industry publications. Professional conference producers. Local internet marketing associations. If there's one thing digital marketing has no shortage of, it's trade shows. They come in all shapes and sizes, and take place all over the world.
Currently, we're in the summer trade show lull, but things pick up soon enough. And trade shows aren't cheap. In addition to an admission ticket that can run into the thousands of dollars, there are often associated costs. Not just obvious ones such as travel, hotel and meals, but time spent away from work and clients.
Moreover, all conferences, conventions and industry boondoggles are hardly created equal. So as you assess your tradeshow calendar for the coming season, herewith 10 tips from a veteran of literally thousands of digital marketing shows on how to evaluate what shows are worth your time. And money.
1. Is it pay to play? Who are the speakers at the show you're considering attending - and more important, how did they get their speaking slot? It's surprising how almost willfully naïve marketers can be about how many trade show speakers buy their way onto the podium. Speakers are very often the event's sponsors, advertisers, media partners, or the vendors who are exhibiting at the conference. This isn't necessarily terrible - lots of these people are, indeed, truely experts in their field. But if speeches and sessions tend more toward the sales-y rather than the illuminating or educational, you're going to be disappointed if you're there to learn and to grow. And there's no reason why you can't ask the organizer what percentage of the speakers at the event are commercial partners, and what parameters safeguard the editorial portion of the show.
2. Are their marketing techniques above board? Every digital marketing conference will tell you they live and breathe to impart industry best practices. One way to assess if they do is to evaluate if the conference itself is walking the walk. Are they unduly bombarding your inbox with promotions, deals, and exhortations to sign up? Are those emails, indeed, CAN-SPAM compliant? If it's a social media conference, do they employ social media marketing? Ditto search, and so on down the line. One very well-known multi-city U.S. event has illegally robocalled my home number (on the do-not-call list) three times in the past 30 days. Hardly a promising segue into "best practices," and certainly not in the consideration set for a "certificate in digital marketing."
3. Ask previous attendees Word of mouth marketing works - and it works for you, too. Who in your network has attended the conference in the past? Would they recommend it? Why? What was the value they got out of it? You can put the word out to friends and coworkers, or throw up a query on Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter. Unvarnished opinions will soon be rolling in, promise.
4. Why are you going? It's never a bad idea to ask yourself why you're inclined to attend a specific event. Are you after networking? Learning tactics and techniques? Keeping up with trends and technology? Shopping for vendors? Make a list. It will help ascertain if you want an event featuring a trade show (vendors); workshops (tactics); or a generous helping of social events for you networkers.
5. What kind of infrastructure will you need? What are your must-have creature comforts, and are they going to be available at the event you're considering? Will the organizer offer wifi? Adequate power plugs for phones and laptops? Lunch? On the surface, this stuff sounds picayune. But just wait until you've hit Day 3 of a five day conference with a dead phone, an angry client, and no charger in sight. Have you been to the event with a half hour lunch break in a hotel far removed from reasonably priced services, only to learn the cost of admission doesn't include a sandwich or even a measly power bar? That's when these seemingly trivial issues matter. A lot.
6. Specialty event, or broad? Events come in all shapes and sizes, and all levels of specialization. B2B, B2C, search, affiliate, email or social media specific, or as wide and broad as the web itself. Things are specific enough for women bloggers to have an event all to themselves (BlogHer) and entire conferences dedicated to Twitter or custom content creation. Huge events center around email, or affiliate, or search. Gargantuan shows like Ad:Tech focus on everything. Determine your own focus before signing up.
7. Who are the speakers? What are their reputations? What are their industry accomplishements? Are they good speakers - not just experience in their field? Even the most talented amongst us are not blessed with strong presentation skills. Have you heard them speak before? If so, has enough time elapsed so that you won't get a second helping of the deck you already sat through? This is a more frequent occurence than you might think, particularly for regulars on the conference circuit.
8. Could you be a speaker? Consider sending in a pitch. You still get to attend the conference, but there's a ton of value in presenting. Not only does it bolster your professional résumé and facilitate networking once people know who you are and what you're good at, it also gets you in the door for free.
9. Are you disciplined enough not to go? These days many conferences, particular the big ones and those centered around social media, are liveblogged, YouTubed, SlideShared and reported on ad infinitum. If your goal isn't so much the networking but the keeping up with trends - and you have the discipline to really dig into the social media fallout - perhaps you don't actually have to travel hundreds of miles to actually be in the room. Of course, this could kill the core economics of conferences in general. Still, it's a consideration.
10. What's the ROI? As you would for a campaign or other marketing endeavor, establish ROI benchmarks for attending industry events. Learning you can put into action when you're back at your desk? Expanding the lead pool? Landing a deal? Finding a vendor or candidates for an open position at your company? There are myriad reasons to attend conferences and trade shows. Establish goals for wringing value out of the event before you sign up and pack your bag.