Opinion

Conference revelations

Tony AhnIn this guest post, Tony Ahn calls on marketing conference organisers in Asia to stop wasting his time and produce more compelling, insightful content. Ahn live-tweeted during the Mobile Marketing Association of the Philippines Summit last week, then wrote about about how his tweets “disrupted” the content of the conference. 

I attend conference talks in order to learn new things that will make me a better marketer. Ostensibly, that’s why conferences offer talks in the first place. Being a mid-career professional that has spoken at many professional events and listened to others speak at many more, in my experience, the majority of conference talks I hear are not worth my time.

That may sound harsh, but remember that the audience makes its career in marketing, and that means we’re looking for something new: new insights, new data, new tools, new something. Going into conferences, I regularly must confront the Four Horsemen of the Conference Apocalypse. I quote from the Book of Creatives, Chapter Six:

Then when the keynote speaker ended his talk, I heard the conference host introduce the first plenary speaker. I looked, and behold, a white horse, and he who sat upon it was before a podium; and a remote clicker was given unto him, and he went forth with a deck full of information we all knew, admonishing us to “get back to basics.” I sprained an eyeball after rolling it too hard.

When the host introduced the second speaker, a red horse went out; and him who sat upon it pontificated on a topic that had recently been covered by those scribes they call “bloggers,” and the audience was thirsty for new insights on the topic that the scribes had not covered, yet the horseman gave none.

When the host introduced the third speaker, I looked, and behold, a black horse; and he who sat upon it had a pair of award submission videos his agency had done. And I heard something like a voice in the center of the audience whispering, “This speaker is a conference sponsor and paid many shekels for his spot.” He proudly recited the views, impressions, and earned media values, but spoke naught on insights that might improve his audience’s marketing efforts.

When the host introduced the fourth speaker, I looked, and behold, a pale horse; and he who sat on it had the name Hype; and the Demon of Exaggeration was following him. He spoke with a terrible voice, uttering the terms “game changing” and “disruptive” to describe his innovation. I sprained my other eyeball.

Then I saw in the audience the souls of those tormented by the Demon called Boredom. They called out in a loud voice, “How long, O conference organizers, until you improve the quality of these talks and avenge our wasted time?” They were given a little snack and an apology, for the conference schedule was two hours behind.

I watched as he introduced the fifth speaker. There was a great earthquake. The sun was blotted out, the stars became flames, and the skies fell. Oh, no, sorry, that was just my shock at actually having an excellent speaker who taught me something new that will make me a better marketer.

Then the agency owners, the CEOs, the chief creatives, the CMOs, the brand managers, and everyone else, both slave and free, reveled in glamorous style during the afterparty. They called to their friends, “Our respite from conference hell is upon us! Waiter, bring forth another cocktail! We work hard and play hard!” Later they begged to the heavens “Fall on us and hide us from the wrath of the hangover! The first talk tomorrow is at 9am, and who can withstand it so early?”

At the 8th Internet and Mobile Marketing Association of the Philippines (IMMAP) Summit, I saw several of the aforementioned speakers. The conference this year consisted of plenary speakers before lunch, who addressed the assembled conference, and breakout sessions on four tracks, after lunch.

We started with Paul Srivorakul, founder of Ensogo, Admax, ACommerce, and Regional CEO of Ardent Capital. He was an earthquake speaker (see above), providing insights into the future of ecommerce. After some commercial messages, he was followed by Carol Sarthou of Nielsen, who turned out to be on a kind of red horse, but instead of talking about stuff others have written about, she repeated information Nielsen had already released, so those in the room that were informed (most of us) got nothing new. Her talk was entitled “Update on the Pinoy Digital Consumer” and there was consensus among those I spoke with that the audience expected exactly that: an update since the last study was released, or at least info from it that wasn’t already circulating.

After lunch I hit a few breakout sessions, first catching Jonathan Bonsey of Bonsey Designs, who was on a kind of white horse, speaking with enthusiasm and knowledge about things everyone in the room was enthusiastic and knowledgeable about. The person sitting to my right got a lot out of it…because she didn’t have a background in marketing. The topic was more suitable for an undergraduate class. He went on at length, and made me late for my next session, which was an audience-question driven panel discussion, which I didn’t see enough of to evaluate. That’s not Mr. Bonsey’s fault as much as it is IMMAPs, as in a multi-track breakout session format, every speaker needs to end on time. After that I caught Russell Morgan of UX Manila, whose talk was titled “Why UX is the Next Wave of Creative,” but began with a lecture on the history of advertising that began in 1704 and took 40 minutes to get to present. He then spent the next 15 minutes telling us things like “If you make your clients users happy, your clients will be happy” (that’s a close paraphrase). This puts him solidly on yet another white horse.

The following day, we started with another earthquake when Maria Ressa, CEO of Rappler.com took the stage. She gave a great talk on crowdsourcing and influence tracking. She was followed by another earthquake as Nick Fawbert of Brand New Media spoke on “Content and Commerce: Winning Hearts, Minds, and Wallets.” Nick admitted he had actually planned to show a couple feel-good videos, which probably would have put him on something like a black horse, but after checking out the feedback the previous day, decided to stay up late redoing what turned out to be another earthquake presentation.

Nick was followed by Christopher Lee Ball, who seemed a bit out of touch with his audience (“Has anyone here heard of Uber? If not, you should try it.” Someone behind me said “Who in marketing hasn’t heard of Uber?”), and proceeded to deliver a white-horse talk on digital transformation that included examples of how airlines disrupted ocean travel. We didn’t learn too much. But then we had lunch. Kudos go to the organizers for starting on time and for the most part staying on schedule both days, a feat that has not always been accomplished in past IMMAP Summits.

I missed the afternoon sessions, unfortunately, but that evening, the Boomerang Awards had a record number of entries and served as the event afterparty.

And there was much rejoicing.

Tony Ahn is the chief digital architect and founder of Tony Ahn & Co.

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