by Jan Rezab, Founder & Chairman, Socialbakers
Conferences unfortunately tend to fall into one of two buckets when it comes to their image. In the first, you have a room full of people listening to a talk, making a conference look dull. In the second, you have a wild after party, which looks like a lot of fun but of little value for the company and yourself.
WPP Stream didn’t fall into either. Hosted by the largest agency group in the world, Stream really is an “un”conference; there’s no fixed agenda, just 300 speaker caliber guests and a blank schedule. “Un”attending is probably the biggest mistake you can make. Stream created a certain camp-like bond that does not go away, and the relationships you make, new friends you meet, and discussions you have stay with you.
Coming from someone who attends 40+ events per year and organizes equally as many, Stream makes it into my top three annual events, but from so many aspects it’s simply the best. It’s the little details that matter at Stream, the little mentions, the people organizing it (Ella, Aoife, the event team, everyone). Let me try and explain.
The most fun thing about WPP Stream is that you don’t feel like you’re bound to the typical rules you are at most conferences. What goes on at an event like this? What is the conference program? Well, there is none at the beginning, outside lunch-time and dinner, and everything is an open canvas.
I found a nice slot on the board — I chose my discussion to be about kids and screen time, and how we can protect and adequately equip them while they’re growing up. (Note: I don’t claim to have a perfect solution to that problem, and I’m not a seasoned expert other than having a 3 year old and a 6 year old myself. Curiosity drove me.)
I put it on a big white board, promoted it with a nice little “banner” (thanks Bernadine!), and didn’t know if anyone would actually show up. What I was surprised to see was the 70 people attending, probably also like me, driven by curiosity. Everyone really engaged and contributed with their experiences, sharing their concerns and solutions. And obviously while there is no ultimate solution to this huge topic, so many interesting points were raised. Points on when to have the talk with children about “all that you can find on the internet,” or when to give children their first phone. (By the way, the general consensus was that they should get a dumb phone in the earlier years when you need to reach them after school, and a smart phone shouldn’t come until they’re at least 11–12.)
It was amazing to attend so many talks from so many brilliant people. The talks ranged from AI, machine learning, virtual reality, mock pitches on charity projects that would actually become executed, to just having fun in a group doing PowerPoint Karaoke. (PowerPoint Karaoke is when you have to present slides you have never seen before and you have to come up with a theme beforehand. So much fun! It beats stand-up comedy, except Rob Norman’s.)
Then there was of course the SMS talk (nope, not a talk about text messaging; a Sir Martin Sorrell interview), which provided great personal and professional self-reflections: showing and discussing the ad industry, friends, frenemies, and others. Obviously being in analytics, I liked the points about WPP’s focus on data investment management.
Evenings at the WPP Stream were one of the most fun parts of the conference. The first evening was marked with amazing performances of stand-up comedian agency GroupM boss Rob Norman and long-time respected entrepreneur Yossi Vardi. There was also a great project by James Bromley, COO of Swiftkey, who sent high-altitude helium balloons with Stream lego and the heads of Martin and Yossi.
The Friday evening of the event was all about Extravaganza, a talent show with pop-in magicians, fun PowerPoint karaoke finalists, and bands that were just formed earlier that day.
The Saturday evening was in the mark of pitches and a huge bonfire competition. We had 30 minutes of time to build a pretty big bonfire, and as team captain and a childhood scout, I got really into it and mentally prepared for a few hours. We built a teepee with 3 inner pyramids, and if I say so myself, our team’s bonfire was the biggest and best one.
What more to say? I met some amazing people, made new friends, and built memories that are here to stay. That counts for a lot!
Jan Rezab, Founder & Chairman, Socialbakers