Our flagship event, the B2B Forum, last week delivered equal measures of ideas, inspiration, fun, heart, guts, and soul.
Does it seem odd to talk about things like "heart" and "soul" in relation to a business conference? And if so, why? Because I think it makes total sense. Here's why.
First, an acknowledgement to my friend and B2B Forum speaker Doug Kessler (and a hilariously sore loser (!)) of our first annual Bright Bulb Awards) for helping me sort out what made last week's B2B Forum so special.
Last week, on the ground, in Boston, I could sense that something special was afoot. But I'm awfully close to it to have much perspective: It's like asking a parent to articulate why her child is so spectacular a human being... You end up with an almost incoherent rush of words and feelings that's capped with a lump in the throat.
Doug helped me find the narrative thread by offering me necessary perspective. Thank you, Doug.
So what did I take away from Boston last week?
Our speakers are simply some of the brightest people in marketing. We hand-pick them because of that, and because they love what they do. But, even more than that, our speakers are also interesting, generous in sharing their knowledge, and nice.
"Nice" might sound like a throwaway term. But it's not. Truly it's a quality we value in those people we put in front of our community.
Do you want to learn from a jerk? Neither do I.
A real benefit to in-person events is, of course, the education you get from the sessions. But it's also something more: The jolt you get from being in the same room as like-minded people whose view of the world is similar to yours... but not the same. The kind of inspiration—as I've written before—that makes all the difference between a groove and a rut, as the songwriter Christine Lavin sings. ("There's a very fine line between a groove and a rut; a fine line between eccentrics and people who are just plain nuts.")
Thursday's kickoff featured a surprise flashmob from the Boston hip hop group Phunk Phenomenon (a great group of kids who arrived at 6:45 AM!).
(video credit: Kerry Gorgone)
We knew we wanted a surprise to wake people up, but we also wanted to draw a connection between creating memorable experiences and marketing. We wanted our attendees to leave inspired to shake things up a little when they went back to their own organizations, sitting back at their own desks. The theme of the event was "Marketing Is Full of Choices," and we want to help the marketers in our community to make inspired ones.
And speaking of inspiration, the sponsors definitely had it. Sponsors often don't get enough credit for the hard work they do on the show floor. Our sponsors obviously helped defray the cost of the event by paying to exhibit there. But in talking to many of them over the few days, I realized that so many of them offered truly inspired products and services. They were a spectacular group.
Fun and humor.
Morning flash mobs. An Oscar-themed Bright Bulbs awards ceremony (complete with evening wear). Giant vinyl stickers in the bathrooms with funny sayings.
Blinking cocktail tumblers.
Great swag and social giveaways. Superhero drawings.
(photo credit: Dave Cutler)
Themed costumes at Profstoberfest—our version of Oktoberfest.
All of that fun added a sense of buoyancy to B2B Forum. None of it would've worked nearly as well if not balanced by serious learning in the sessions, by the way. Without the education, it would've been a fall version of Spring Break for marketers. But with it, we created a necessary equilibrium, I think. B2B marketing is a pretty fun place to be these days, no matter how serious your business is.
We built a few surprises into the Forum, which took guts to pull off. We didn't meet the Phunk Phenomenon dance troupe until an hour before it was set to go on, for example. We weren't sure attendees would appreciate our quirky touches. We weren't sure David Meerman Scott would find the setup that Tim Washer and I put together for his surprise Lifetime Achievement Award and keynote (!) as hilarious as we thought it was. We weren't totally sure that nominees of the Bright Bulb Awards would find the Oscar theme—and all the mocking of their excellent efforts—at all charming.
Also: One of my favorite sessions is the closing general session: "7 Minutes of Awesome." Now in its third year, it features seven marketers speaking on a variety of subjects for seven minutes. But, really, the premise is far simpler than that: They tell stories I want to hear and share with our attendees. I admire the guts, courage, energy, and (sometimes) humor with which this year's seven—(Andrew Davis, Jon Miller, Erika Napoletano, Marcus Sheridan, David B. Thomas, Tim Washer, Tamsen Webster)—approach those stories. It's a warm and marvelous end to our event.
There's a broader marketing lesson in there somewhere—it takes guts to do the things that aren't a sure bet—but there's also a lesson in there for event programmers.
Soul (and Much Gratitude!)
I get a lot of accolades from others on the success of an event. But so many people here at MarketingProfs contribute to the success of our events program, leaving me with tremendous respect and awe for everyone who is part of the MarketingProfs family.
Whether they were on the ground in Boston, out front or behind the scenes... truly everyone at MarketingProfs played a part in making this year's B2B Forum the absolute best ever. But a special shout goes out from me and my B2B co-conspirator Sharon Hudson to what we think of as the Big Seven—Kathy Bushman, John Giunta, Daniele Hagen, Kristen Johnson, Corey O'Loughlin, Julie Pildner, and Jo Roberts—who put their own heart and soul into the Forum. Those seven people made us all look better, smarter, and cuter (or more handsome). A shout out to our sales staff, too, who understand what we are trying to accomplish at the Forum. (It's not just about money.)
I was pretty busy on the ground in Boston, and I didn't get to attend a lot of the 32 breakout sessions and 6 half-day workshops at the Forum. So, ironically, I attended our own conference like many of those who weren't there—vicariously, via the Twitter stream, Instagram, Facebook, and other social channels. You thought the prizes we gave for social sharing ("Social Superlatives," as we called them) were designed to benefit non-attendees? Nope. It was all for me.
(Ha. I'm kidding.)
(Or am I?)
So, I appreciate all the social love—the social sharing, and the resulting blog posts:
Improve the Customer Experience Using Mobile
Ann Handley is chief content officer of MarketingProfs, author of Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide to Ridiculously Good Content, and co-author of the best-selling book on content marketing, Content Rules. Ann co-founded ClickZ.com, one of the first sources of interactive marketing news and commentary.