Yes and no. Yes, because it is definitely one of the best marketing events in the CEE region. No, because you might not get as much value as you expect. It’s a bit more complicated than that though. Read on for thoughts on what it was like to attend Marketing Festival 2016 and whether going next year is worth it for you.
First, I feel obliged to say that I am a skeptic to say the least when it comes to conferences and get-togethers. Moreover, as a first-time attendee I can’t really compare this year’s #mktfest to the previous ones. However, after several waves of great reviews of Marketing Festival from almost everyone I know in the marketing industry, I finally decided to suppress my skepticism and give it a shot.
Sharing a room and a mixed expectations attitude with 2FRESH SK’s project manager Nikita, the two of us embarked on what we expected to be a nice, but overrated experience, greatly increasing our chances of being pleasantly surprised.
And boy, we were.
As Awesome as it Gets: The Venue
We skipped workshops on Thursday and made it to Ostrava, Czech Republic early Friday morning. The venue was no less than breathtaking. The exhilarating and unexpected experience of walking through an old industrial mine complex where it all took place was just so damn awesome that words fail me (and I call myself a copywriter!). Just take a look at this:
The whole conference took place in a huge gas hold that had been converted into a congress hall. How cool is that? When it comes to the venue itself, we had no complaints about cleanliness, navigation or capacity — the registration took literally seconds and it was easy enough to move around, with the added benefit of several coffee stands — we really appreciated those, having to wake up at five to catch our Friday train and sleeping less than we expected the next night, when Ostrava’s nightlife caught us off-guard.
The venue was no less than breathtaking: the whole thing took place in a huge gas hold of a disused mine complex.
Not as Awesome: Queues and Connections
There were some major drawbacks though: no damn WiFi. Like, at all. Nada. I don’t care how many people there are or what the venue is, a working WiFi is a must. It also helps if you don’t have to wait in a queue for lunch for half an hour, with an early exit from a talk as the only way how to avoid this. In fairness though, the food was a lot better than we expected, with a variety of snacks you could snatch any time you wanted.
There was no WiFi, and long lunch queues were a rule.
Speaking of queues, Friday night was party night in the local Technical museum, just a few dozen feet away from the congress hall. Besides the exhibits, there was not much to the party: the queues at the bars were ridiculously long, the DJ was stashed somewhere away in the corner, and it just didn’t have that party vibe you’d expect, making us leave as soon as we finished checking out the exhibition. Sad, isn’t it?
Let’s get to the point though: how were the talks themselves?
Mixed Feelings: The Talks
As a copywriter and a project manager, we didn’t expect much content to be very relevant for our line of work. And we were right. The majority of talks focused on advanced PPC techniques, programmatic, SEO and data analysis.
Some of those were interesting, some of them we couldn’t really comment on because we didn’t understand, but some sucked serious balls. Not because of their topic or content, but because of the speakers.
One girl’s English was so poor we were unable to understand half of what she said, and this other guy took breaks in between slides to see what was coming next, as if he hadn’t even bothered to learn his talk by heart. Some other speakers had such poor presentation skills that they themselves seemed completely disinterested in their own talk. I mean, what the hell?
Some speakers had incredibly poor presentation skills.
How are you supposed to tolerate poor presentation skills at an event like Marketing Festival? How are you supposed to focus on someone who didn’t even take the time to learn his own talk? Wake up, people. Let’s not kill great content with poor presentation!
Taking Notes: The Highlights
Despite the letdowns I mentioned, we did enjoy the majority of talks we saw. Some of them were great, immersive and informative at the same time.
I found Kevin Hillstrom’s talk particularly insightful. He compared sports team business and advertising strategies to digital marketing and sales, revealing some interesting, yet not so intuitive points that really shed some light on how to avoid ‘lizard logic’ when trying to sell and drive profit instead of focusing on campaign effectiveness too much.
Despite the letdowns, we did enjoy the majority of talks we saw.
Colin Woon had a talk on how UK’s Telefonica shifted all of their SEO management from an external agency to the internal team — a very interesting topic a lot of marketers deal with day to day and one I was really looking forward to. Sadly, lack of clear structure and insufficient preparation on Colin’s part spoiled the otherwise great talk with lots of potential. Sorry, Colin!
Not being able to fully appreciate, or even understand, Frederick Vallaeys’ talk about PPC automation and missing the last talk by Michael Lykke Aagaard (which was apparently totally awesome), I’ll skip right to my absolute favorites.
This is How it’s Done: The Créme de la Créme
To be honest, there were only a few talks we’d be able to consider professional, well-prepared and well-structred, with a clear takeaway and a well-chosen topic. Let me name two:
Friday’s finisher was especially well-picked. It was Michal Pastier and his elaborate, yet easy to understand explanation of the Fofola campaign. Everybody knows it around here, but only few realize how much insight, planning, analysis and forethought was needed for such a successful execution.
He talked about how a strong character provides content and reinforced his reasoning with true stories about a Japanese horse and a cat that were turned into brands. He stressed that we admire characters for trying, not for being successful and explained how the peak-end effect works and how he put it to use with Fofola.
He shed a lot of light on the basics of creative advertising and made us all laugh several times, saving the otherwise dull day with a great finish.
Stephen P. Anderson did a similar thing on Saturday in his talk on how great experiences are created, cleverly drawing parallels between experience design and game design.
He explained how games create experiences, bridging from practical examples of board game redesigns to the abstract, yet easy to grasp MDA (mechanics / dynamics / aesthetics) model.
Further elaborating on the difference between design outcomes and outputs as well as between experience focus and product focus, he made clear that we should always work back from the experience we’re aiming for towards the product, not the other way around. If all talks were like his, I probably wouldn’t be writing any of this and would just write BUY TICKETS DAMMIT on my forehead next year.
An Honorable Mention: The Case Studies
I definitely want to mention the case study blocks, where speakers had 10 minutes to get their point across. Some of them were (sadly, when you think of it) the best presentations there were on Marketing Festival 2016.
A simple, concise and clear case study such as the one about taking advantage of Kickstarter to make millions of crowns for a sock product really brightens your day. This short presentation got its point across so effectively that even some of the major speakers could learn from it.
Another one that is worth mentioning is Avast’s little A/B test designed to find whether talking about gifts instead of special offers and introducing urgency makes more money (spoiler alert: both work). Again, it was straightforward, clear and enriching.
Some case studies were better than their fully-fledged talk counterparts.
Others not so much. Jan Řezáč and his overly outgoing style did’t really impress us and neither did a case study on e-mailing best practices that just screamed self-promo. I know that optimizing e-mailing campaigns is important, but let’s be honest — haven’t we already seen a zillion useless variations on the same e-mail marketing case study? I think we have, and this one was just a +1 on the list, bringing nothing new to the game.
To Go or not to Go: The Verdict
We went to this year’s Marketing Festival in Ostrava with mixed expectations — and we left with mixed feelings. While there were some really insightful talks to be seen at venue that made your jaw drop, some failed to impress us at all.
The question whether shelling out 300 euros for a ticket is worth the experience is there for everyone to decide, particularly because the overall quality could definitely be improved.
Last but not least, it really depends on what your specialization is. If you’re a hardcore PPC specialist, this year would be awesome for you. For me as a copywriter — not so much.
I speak for both of us when I say that we liked it and we’re glad we went. The venue was kickass, as was Ostrava itself, whose nightlife we sampled by a fortunate accident that only made the whole experience even more special.
You’ll have to try for yourself to see whether it’s worth it. You won’t regret it.
In the end, it’s the talks themselves that make or break #mktfest. This year, some were too basic, some too advanced, some just half-assed. The rest was great, but it’ll take some before I decide whether it’s really something that brought me value, or whether it’s just a nice thing to see.
The best piece of advice I can give and the answer to the initial question is this: go see for yourself. We did and we don’t regret it.