Breaking the ‘Bad Conference’ Mold with Hero Conf
February 7, 2013
With our last early bird discount-pricing deadline ending this Friday (February 8th) the PPC Hero team wants to make sure you know all the facts about what to expect when it comes to attending Hero Conf! For those of you who have missed it, Hero Conf 2013 will be taking place in Austin, TX on April 8-10. It’s a 3-day event this year, up from 2 last year, and will include two full days of PPC-only sessions, with the workshop taking place on day 3. I hope you’ll check it out over at the Hero Conf website and we look forward to seeing you there!
A few weeks ago, Ron Leathern of Optimal, Inc. wrote an incredibly honest and dead-to-rights analysis of what’s wrong with conferences these days and probably driving attendees away from attending more. Not only did we appreciate how candid Ron was in his diagnosis, we were thrilled that Hero Conf broke the bad conference mold in every way possible!
Of course, the very next thought was: “Wait! We need to make sure people know we’re NOT that kind of conference!” So without further adieu…
“Not enough time/occasion for networking.”
The Hero Conf team not only makes time during the evenings of the conference for networking, but breaks are specifically placed after keynote and general sessions to allow for conversations to start sooner rather than later throughout the day. Additionally, lunch is structured with themed tables so that PPC conversation saturates any “down” time.
“Speakers and moderators don’t prep enough (or at all).”
We know our speakers and moderators are going to be prepared, because we ask for all presentation materials to be turned in to the Hero Conf team well in advance of the event! This also puts a check in place that no presentations are being thrown together the day of the session. Our panel moderators hold conference calls with their panelists before the event to prepare, as well. More on the choosing process in a bit, but that’s another way we’re sure our speakers and moderators will be the best and deliver the content our attendees need and deserve.
“Panels have too many people on them.”
All Hero Conf panels will have 3-4 people plus a moderator, and these are not your run of the mill panels! Ours are actually more like presentation panels, with each panelist giving an individual presentation, rather than a Q&A style for an entire session. This keeps all panelists with an even amount of the floor throughout the session, ensuring the best messages and content rise to the top without any showboating or spotlight hogging!
“Moderators don’t get the best out of their panelists.”
We choose paid search gurus to be our panel session moderators, and they are super familiar with those panelists they’re working with for the session. Remember that pre-event conference call from earlier? This allows the moderators at Hero Conf to not only be sure all panelists get their appropriate intro to the attendees, but that the right panelists field the right questions during the Q&A’s that wrap-up our panel sessions.
“Pay to play means the best content doesn’t win.”
All speakers for Hero Conf have to submit a topic and objectives for their desired presentation every year; last year’s speakers, sponsor speakers, Hanapin team members, everybody! In fact, we had speakers from some of our sponsors this year apply to speak who weren’t chosen, and they still sponsored the conference! Our speakers are chosen on a 100% blind and merit-based system around their knowledge, expertise and pitched content. This year we had 8 times as many speaker pitches as we did last year…so the competition was tough and we selected the very best!
“The same panelists show up again and again.”
Almost half of the speakers who will be presenting at Hero Conf this year aren’t regular names on the SES or SMX speaker circuit. Of course if we find a fantastic speaker who wants to continually come back and share their ideas with our attendees, we’d love to see and potentially bring them back year over year. That said, we invited last year’s speakers to pitch this year, and not everyone got in. Additionally, even some big brand reps we had attend last year (Bing/Microsoft, Google, etc.) are sending different speakers to this year’s event! No same old, same old here!
“Sponsorship is usually a terrible deal for sponsors.”
Our team has done diligent work to make sure all our Hero Conf sponsors get the value they need out of partnering with our conference. For example, we’re going to be giving a door prize away to the attendee who interacts the most with our sponsors throughout the conference. This will encourage attendees to go have the conversations we and the sponsors know they could benefit from, and guarantees the sponsors that attendees won’t be avoiding them (as with many other conferences). The secret sauce we feel our sponsors have over the rest is that we hand select them from either current or previous partners to our own agency, so we know the people we’re introducing our attendees to are the most capable hands. This way, sponsors and attendees benefit from the Hero Conf sponsorship opportunities.
“Strategy vs. How To content at the wrong time for the wrong audience.”
Weeks and months go in to setting the Hero Conf session and track schedule because our intention is to have Hero Conf stand as a practitioner’s conference. This means the actual account managers that are in the trenches optimizing PPC accounts are the target audience, so the bulk of the content of Hero Conf is how-to in nature. We also do a great deal of planning on which topics go in which room to be sure we cut down on the transition time from session to session for our attendees as much as possible. Again, being a practitioner-based conference, we expect laptops out and packing up every 30-60 minutes is something we try to cut down on!
“Sponsor-produced content usually sucks.”
Yet another reference to a previous point, but in #5 I mentioned that our sponsors are held to the same standards as the rest of the Hero Conf speakers when it comes to content. And we mean it. Additionally, we let sponsor speakers know we understand they’re there to sell their products or service, but actionable content must be the base of their speaking session. Save the rest for networking time (which we’ve got in abundance)! In case you’re a hard believer in this rule, those sessions that are being presented by a conference sponsor are noted as such in the Hero Conf handbook…but we promise that’s no reason to bypass them! We didn’t accept any sponsorship dollars from a potential speaker until we knew their topic of choice and approved the content and presentation. Content. Comes. First!
“Session quality is highly variable.”
Session quality is not something the Hero Conf team is willing to budge on. While the expertise level of our sessions varies between introductory, intermediate and advanced, the quality of those sessions will all be remarkably high. We also use experienced moderators to ensure all panelist sessions go off smoothly and to check that content is of high enough quality before the conference in their pre-event calls. If all that isn’t insurance enough – last year’s speakers had no less than one year PPC experience, with the average actually coming in at 3-5 years. With speakers of that caliber, there’s no chance of quality faltering!
“It’s hard to talk to the speakers you think were good.”
4:1. That’s this year’s Hero Conf attendee to speaker ratio…by design! This is another necessity for us when it comes to Hero Conf because it allows attendees to be able to access speakers throughout the conference, and not just once but often. It also lets the speakers get as much access to the attendees and properly take advantage of the networking time we make available. Our due diligence to keep that ratio tight wouldn’t matter at all, of course, if we didn’t also have a great group coming to join us. Many of last year’s attendees mentioned the “family atmosphere” at Hero Conf 2012 and how open and conversational everyone was!
“Hard to give feedback at or after the event.”
We want Hero Conf to grow and get exponentially better every single year. The only way we can do that is if we listen to our attendees in regards to all aspects of the event. We put out feedback/comment cards after all speaker sessions and to wrap the entire conference, to make it easy for attendees to provide feedback when it’s fresh in their minds, rather than weeks later. Then, obviously, the Hero Conf team is available via PPC Hero year-round for any and all conference-related notes.
“The coffee is bad.”
Sam and I have already told you what we thought of the food/refreshments at Hero Conf last year, however you all should know the Hanapin/PPC Hero/Hero Conf team are all coffee addicts, too. So we’ll be sure the coffee is more than up to standards. Also…and this is serious…there’s going to be an ICE CREAM TRUCK. Yep. That’s happening. (Thanks, Bing!)
“Unclear how to ‘continue the conversation’ after the show.”
We include all speakers’ Twitter handles and contact information in our conference handbook, which all attendees receive at registration. This guarantees that our attendees can maintain access to speakers to continue conversation. We also periodically post Hero Conf-related materials on PPC Hero after the event wraps to allow another forum for conversation about conference topics, ideas, strategies, etc.
The PPC Hero and Hanapin Marketing team are all too familiar with the waning value of conferences, specifically in the PPC or search marketing industries. Our main goal is to make sure we don’t fit any of those negative characteristics and run Hero Conf in the exact opposite direction…towards high-value/highly-actionable content and an all-around wonderful conference experience!
A little bit I hope this is opening a pandora’s box of awesome stories…but what have you seen at conferences that you didn’t like? How could it have been better? What about the list above gets you excited about Hero Conf the most?
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