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June 16, 2011
Let’s Have a Chat About All These Conferences
Are marketing and advertising professionals getting training, or just blather?
I recently spent two days at a conference that focused on all things digital. Other than the irony that nearly every presenter had technical difficulties getting their presentations set up, much of the event seemed to be a bit unfulfilling. The fact that I used vacation days (yes, I really did) to attend made it particularly disappointing.
Yet, every week I see floods of tweets and blog posts from people I know sharing quotable nuggets or random observations from some marketing-related conference, seminar, or training session. Collectively, it always seems like these gatherings are the place to be for gaining bits of wisdom. Who has time to attend all these conferences? Do people truly learn anything at them? And what’s the best way for agencies and marketing professionals to get training?
Training is essential these days, now more than ever. Unless you attend classes or seminars for a program like Photoshop or a specific skill like sales or presentation training, there’s very little for advertising professionals in mid-career to take advantage of to stay current. And in many cases, agencies are reluctant to pay to send anyone to attend training that isn’t directly related to their current job. In other words, if you want to broaden your skills or become more well-rounded, you have to do it on your time and your dime.
But for many people in advertising and marketing, we’re substituting information gathering for real training. Hence, the rise of all these conferences.
Much of the time, these conferences aren’t cheap. Some of the more intensive or well-established ones can cost a few thousand dollars to attend. Plus, they slice two or three days off a work week, which from an agency business perspective means less billable hours for employees. That’s not stopping the proliferation of conferences, though. Even creatives are getting in on the act. Every awards show now has some conference — or “unconference,” in some cases — mixing a few days of panel discussions or seminars in with the awards revelry.
Clearly, there’s some value in all the networking going on at these events. At every turn, I found myself sneaking glances at every oversized name on a name tag to see if I knew that person, or that person’s company, looking to connect with people I might know from online personas. I suspect I’m not the only one doing that.
Beyond the meeting and greeting, I have to wonder: Is anyone really paying attention at these? While speakers get up and present at the conferences I’ve attended, most of the audience is busy checking their smartphones or iPads, either seeking out something more stimulating or hastily rehashing what they’re hearing. I, too, would often zone out of what I was hearing when I started checking my phone. Certainly defeats the purpose of being there.
Plus, everyone speaker has a PowerPoint deck to accompany their talk. And most of the decks are available on SlideShare or another site. So is there real education happening at these events? Do you actually need to be there to reap of the benefits of all this knowledge?
Whether it’s South by Southwest, Hyper Island, a TEDx, a specialty marketing conference like the one I attended, or anything in between, we’re seeing more and more conferences pop up. Perhaps it’s a sign that increasingly we feel the need, or the pressure, to connect with like-minded people. Which makes me wonder if we’re not getting enough of that in our day-to-day work lives.
I’m just waiting for the conference that deals with how to make conferences better. Pre-registration will start soon, I’m sure.

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Since 2002, Dan Goldgeier has been writing the most provocative advertising columns about advertising and marketing -- over 170 of them, covering every related topic you can think of. Now based in Seattle, Dan is a copywriter and ad school graduate who's worked at shops big and small. 

Visit his copywriting websitesee his LinkedIn profile or follow him on Twitter.

And please, buy his book for 99 cents.


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