There is one thing that is ingrained into you if you have ever driven in Toronto: expect gridlock on the Don Valley Parking Lot. It can be midnight on a Sunday and you’ll still hit stopped traffic somewhere on your trip. So how do we cope and move on from the negative experience you are hit with every time you drive? You prepare for the worst and hope for the best. After all, deep inside, you know it’s the only way to maintain a positive outlook on your day without losing personal momentum. So, as the bus left Kingston at 6 a.m., I knew that I was likely to end up missing a portion of the IAB Canada Fall MIXX Conference’s first speaker, and fellow creative, Charlene Li.
I arrived feeling like I was had slept in and was late for an important meeting, so without hesitation I grabbed my student scarlet letter from the registration desk and raced up to the second floor balcony. Taking the first seat I could find, I realized that the upper balcony of the Carlu was a buzz of excitement where many of the students already taken to the digital realm to engage the world, and their peers. This was the first time I’ve been at a conference and torn between taking in the information in front of me and using my phone to check out the #MIXX2014 event feed to see what questions unfolded around me in real-time as everyone discussed the secrets to digital strategy success. After an all-to-brief round of post-presentation Q&A where we were able to electronically engage Charlene Li with questions on Twitter, it was time to move on.
Stoked, this was followed by interesting presentations on Profit-Driven Marketing by Marie Josée Lamothe and an excellent look at the Global Perspective on Content & Technology by Marta Martinez and AOL where they showed how quick a company can engage in two-way communications with their customer base. The weakest of the morning presentations would have to be the discussion on the End of Digital Media. When Annette Warring said that “content is NOT king, big data is NOT the savior, and the consumer is NOT in control.” It came off as an attention-grabbing headline whose purpose was to justify booking a presentation rather than use as a starting point for a serious discussion on the issue. If digital media was dead, then why were we trending online? Or celebrating the fact that online digital ad revenue had just surpassed 3.5 billion dollars a year in Canada?
During our lunch off-site, we discussed the lack of online engagement with the presenters post-Li; especially toward those of us in the balcony. There had been zero post-presentation Twitter discussions and we were starting to feel left out of the event. This abandonment was even more apparant in the lobby where we could only watch as marketing professionals mingled and chatted on the other side of the roped off “delegates-only” section; a section we students were forbidden to enter unless you really needed to use the facilities and dared run through the minefield of industry representatives. After all, we didn’t want to upset our schools reputation by crashing the scene, chatting with the wrong industry professional and have have our school not be invited back. There was no attempt by anyone in the industry to cross that rope to our side to engage us, or open the barriers to invite us in. Somewhere in that throng was a room of technology aimed at marketers to look at and no one gave permission, or directions, to the students to see the vendors or displays within that room. Which is a shame since some of them might have paid to be there in hopes of plying their wares on anyone eager to listen.
As I settled down to sit through the downward spiral of afternoon presentations, whose presenters lacked both crowd engagement and Twitter accounts, I was left with an old adage from my Public Relations education floating around in my head, “Get your inside onside before you go outside.” So when your key message is about the importance of engaging your customers, how can you achieve that goal if you’re unwilling to engage your future potential employees first?
Whatever side of the ropes you were on, what would you change to help make the next IAB event more engaging for both sides?