Content Marketing World through the eyes of a small agency

I glanced at the clock and finally decided it was time to start my search for worthwhile conferences to attend for the second half of this year. I fired up my browser and literally typed in “worthwhile digital marketing conferences.”  Our budget is limited for frivolous spending – see small agency – so whichever conferences I chose needed to be packed with advantageous information and enough fun to make the trip at least a bit entertaining.  One of those conferences that popped up consistently was Content Marketing World. Located in Cleveland, Ohio, Content Marketing World dubs itself the largest content event. And after a cursory glance at the website, I wouldn’t argue with that claim. Over 120 sessions and workshops, almost 4000 attendees the year prior and enough large brand participation to make quite an impression. Okay, I was sold. I put together a killer PowerPoint presentation to win everyone over and rehearsed the perfect pitch. In reality, I talked it over with my wife, our business development guru, and we thought it was a good idea. The Cost To repeat a theme, we operate a small family run agency. There are 7 of us. Dropping 2500 dollars to step foot into a conference is not going to happen. Luckily, a Main Conference Pass at the Early Bird rate (registering prior to May 31 but after February 28) was $1199 and after finding a coupon code for $100 off, the cost dropped to $1099. That was doable. There are three other options for you to chose from if you want more access, but the Main Conference Pass was more than enough for what we were looking for in an event. A big plus, breakfast and lunch was included in the price.

The City *Disclaimer: I am originally from Northeast Ohio and even worked in downtown Cleveland for a short period. Cleveland gets a bad rap from time to time but it’s actually a very nice city. Traffic is quite frankly shockingly light and the city itself is very clean. I attended Content Marketing World solo and never felt unsafe walking around the city. Restaurants and bars are plentiful and are a short walk from the venue and most of the hotels. Nary a negative word was spoken about the city from anyone I conversed with at the conference. In fact, most people really enjoyed what the city had to offer. The Venue The Huntington Convention Center of Cleveland opened in 2013, so it’s a relatively new facility and it shows. An innovative building that appears to be built into the ground – the roof has a park— is much larger once you get inside. If you stay at the Downtown Hilton, you can access the convention center directly via an escalator and a short hallway.

The Keynotes There were two morning keynotes and two evening keynotes each day of the conference. Not all were home runs, but a couple were absolutely incredible. Piece of advice, if you are interested in an evening keynote and want a good seat, arrive early. The PM speakers tend to draw very large crowds. Tina Fey concluded the keynotes to a packed house. So, needless to say, this event has major pull. The Sessions Sessions are plentiful, almost overwhelmingly so. Especially if you are going alone, download the app and plan your stay in advance. You’ll thank yourself later. The Huntington Convention Center is large and some sessions pack to the walls very quickly. If you choose back to back sessions that take place on opposite ends of the center, prepare to walk very quickly and know you will most likely have to stand in line. In one instance, I had to stand against the wall during a session. Not very comfortable to say the least. The sessions themselves were informative and many of the speakers were entertaining. But you will get the most of the sessions if you understand the keys to the castle won’t be provided to you. It’s general information wrapped up in a fun package. From the small agency point of view, you have to adjust the topics for your own consumption. In other words, some of the suggestions just aren’t possible for small teams or for clients with tight budgets.

Networking I had the pleasure of speaking with many interesting people from a broad spectrum of backgrounds. From solo bloggers to large agencies to Fortune 500 companies. Representing a family-owned agency, I felt quite unique in this crowd and that made for some interesting conversations. The larger agencies and corporate representatives have their own language and their challenges are very different from ours. The solopreneurs were very inquisitive, and I really enjoyed giving information to help those I spoke with.  Overall, if you like talking about marketing, content, blogging and even advertising, you’ll have a blast. The Social Events As the old saying goes “all work and no play…” In addition to the learning and structure, three evenings of fun were also offered with Content Marketing World. I won’t get into specifics, but I did attend all three events. They were lively and fun and each offered two complimentary drinks and plentiful food. Also, all the happenings were within a half mile of the Huntington Convention Center and two of the three featured free trolley rides back to a variety of the hotels. Please note: If you plan on waking up in time to enjoy the free breakfast, attend the morning keynotes and make early sessions, don’t over indulge the night before. The last day’s morning keynotes had light attendance. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out why. Keep the drinking in moderation and your bedtime earlier. But if you don’t care about the next morning, fire away. We’re all adults.

The Food Breakfast and lunch were offered in the main expo area. It wasn’t Michelin Star level cuisine but who really expects that at a conference? One very noteworthy aspect of the food offerings were the vegan options. As a former vegan I really appreciate the love.  Again, no need to go overboard on specifics here, the food was abundant and not too bad. The Coffee Damn right there is a section about coffee. You are staying up late, sitting and learning all day. You need coffee. Luckily Starbucks coffee was offered throughout the Convention Center. Advice: Be careful with the lids. I thought my lid was securely fastened and learned it was not the hard way. Nothing like making the walk of shame to the restroom to retrieve towels right before a session begins. Representing a small agency at a big event has its challenges. Sometimes you feel like you need to be in a million places at once and the information can be overwhelming. But if you go in with the right expectations and have a little fun mixed in with the learning you’ll leave like I did, inspired. Maybe I’ll see you there next year. by Eric Fortney

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