Monday, 8 November 2010

Conference Season

The beginning of Q4 is the time when most e-commerce organisations are finalising plans for the important Christmas trading period, January 2011 and beyond. Therefore it is no coincidence that a number of suppliers and agencies concentrate on this period to acquire new leads. This push for new business manifests itself in an increase in cold calls and a flurry of conferences over this period.

With a number of conferences available, it is always difficult to identify the best ones and quantity the return on investment. Prices usually range from between £300 and £1,000 but price is not always proportional to value; some of the best conferences I have attended have been free. Every conference features sessions with enticing descriptions from big name brands and agencies. The titles of these sessions usually capture current trending buzzwords but this is very often deceptive. One speaker recently admitted during their session on "monetizing social media" that the title was just to get people in the door.

It surprises me that speakers and sessions are not subject to the very reviews and social scrutiny that are very often discussing. This would surely help to increase the standard of presentations and help attendees and prospective attendees decide whether the session is worth attending.

This year, I was fortunate enough to attend two conferences in October. For anyone that is interested in attending conferences next year, I shall weigh up the pro's and con's of both below.

AFU Expo - Excel, London - 12th Oct
Cost - £495

The A4U Expo is a an Affiliate Marketing Conference aimed at merchants, networks and affiliates but the breadth of topics covered make it a worthwhile conference for anyone working in online marketing. 

At any conference, attendees will always enjoy the session thsat resonates with their own challenges. The most valuable session of this year was Helen Southgate, Senior Online Marketing Manager at SKY. 


+ Networking. The networking opportunities are extremely good. Although most affiliates are London centric, there are others that rarely venture down South. I usually capitalise on this to meet with a number of key suppliers and affiliates within the same few days.

+ Layout. Once you eventually get to the Excel Conference center (see disadvantages below) the layout was great and has been improved upon from previous years by moving to the West side of the Excel Exhibition centre. the rooms had considerable space

+ Party! The parties associated with A4U have always been really good events. This year the A4U organising committee put on a pre-party, a party on the first night and a closing party. I only attended the first night party but these are always promise to be late affairs and the smell of alcohol is dominant throughout the second days lectures.


- Transport. The Excel is one of the most challenging venues to get to in London. For most people it takes a minimum of three modes of transport to get there. The 0900 start time for the conference means that it is an early start for most people.

- Layout. This year saw the introduction of a live conference area which was placed in the middle of the exhibition hall. This area played host to some very interesting speakers but it was too distracting to listen to them above the general noise. Particularly as there was a popular driving simulator situated directly behind the stage.

- Repetition. Like the affiliate industry in general, there is not much in terms of a fresh new content or presenters. Brilliant though some of them are, on the whole it is the same individuals presenting and the same subjects covered.  
I have attended this conference for the past three years now and it has become progressively less value to me. Potentially this is as my career has progressed and I am now interested in different challenges. There is no doubt that the A4UExpo has been of value to me over the past three years. It has allowed me to graduate from an affiliate novice to a confident practicioner. I would recommend it to anyone who wants to increase their affiliate knowledge but this was probably my last year.

JUMP - Old Billingsgate, London - 13th Oct
Cost - £875
This conference was aimed at capitalising on the current positive sentiment towards multichannel marketing. It was organised by econsultancy and featured 8 rooms of speakers.


+ Content. At any conference it is always important to try and distinguish the valuable sessions from their cryptic titles. I made some mistakes at JUMP but on the whole the content was of a great quality. The sessions from Matthew Tod from Logan Tod on Actionable Analytics and Rowan Gormley the CEO and founder of Naked Wines on founding a truly social business were the highlight for me.

+ Attendees. The event managed to attract a huge number of high profile marketers from some of the most noted online brands in the UK. Therefore I think it would have been valuable to have some round table sessions. Although the panel sessions were extremely well moderated, the time pressure meant that there were a number of questions that remained unanswered.

+ Location. Old Billingsgate is a great venue to hold a conference. Londoners can easily access the venue from a number of different tube stations and it's also not far away from London Bridge, Fenchurch St or Liverpool St station.  


- Crowds. The morning sessions in particular were very overcrowded. On numerous occasions I was turned away from a session as they were too busy. There was the facility to prebook some of the sessions online but this made matters even more complicated as the staff had no way to distinguish and prioritise the individuals that had prebooked.

- Cost. I was fortunate enough to receive a ticket for free but the door price for this one day event was £895. Given the above I would have been extremely disappointed to have paid the full price fee and not have the opportunity to see the sessions I wanted.

- Venue. This was the first conference I have attended at Old Billingsgate and I was less than impressed with the suitability of the venue. Firstly, the door staff would not allow anyone into the exhibition area prior to the event opening at 0900. This led to a number of attendees half queuing, half loitering  outside. Secondly, the seminar rooms were not big enough and clearly not designed for this purpose. It was distracting to hear the sound overlapping between the different rooms, which were sometimes only segregated by a curtain.

This was a mixed first year for JUMP. There were some obvious learnings that have already been acknowledged in a email from Ashley Friedlein, CEO of Econsultancy. I am sure that Jump 2011 will be an excellent event.

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