Running my first conference in July this year was a very stressful, emotional and rewarding experience. I had unrealistic expectations in October 2016, when I decided that Cork deserved it’s own marketing conference. I was going to have 1000 people attend the conference in City Hall and thought the tickets would sell themselves, as digital marketing is becoming more and more important for businesses- I was very naïve. I attended the Social Media Summit in Dublin April 2017, with approx. 200-250 attendees, and was so impressed with the speakers and networking. I quickly altered my expectations for our inaugural year, but had already proposed too much spend on the keynote and international speakers. Money worries started and I had to cut 2 international speakers to save the conference- which was my first mistake, pre booking too many costly speakers before I knew the realistic ticket sales.

I wanted Amplify to help marketeers upskill and network, especially outside of Dublin, and I succeeded-  I ran Cork’s first digital marketing conference with 250 attendees, of whom, 89% stating they ‘got what they wanted out of the conference’. But none the less, I made many mistakes and here is a candid list of things I have learned:

  1. Run small micro free 2 hour workshops in the months before the conference goes live, to create brand awareness and buzz- No one knew what Amplify was and would it be beneficial to their type of business
  2. Engage with suitable sponsors well in advance! I didn’t secure a big sponsor to help fund the conference- which was a big defeat for me. I left it too late to engage with companies about sponsorship opportunities and most of them had their resources allocated for the year by September 2016
  3. Stick to a solid pricing structure – one early bird price and one full price. When I failed to meet my target for early bird ticket sales, I panicked and extended it and extended it; which may have reflected poorly on the value of the conference. This was due to no hype about the conference before early bird tickets went on sale!
  4. Hire a PR Company! I couldn’t get a main newspaper to publish one press release about the conference.  I underestimated the work that PR agencies do- they have contacts within the industry and know what hook to focus on in writing the attention grabbing press release
  5. Ensure Speakers have specific areas of expertise so their presentation will be unique and relevant to the audience
  6. Have tea/coffee available all the time! This might sound not as important as the other points, but it was the no.1 proposed change on our surveys- I spent a lot of money on hot lunches for each day, and should have spent it on refreshments
  7. Don’t underestimate the chance of sessions running over time- I should have given 10 minutes between speaker sessions / workshops
  8. Get an App platform for the conference to provide a list of attendees and sessions
  9. Personally I wouldn’t run radio adverts next year, it didn’t suit my type of business as the listenership isn’t your niche target audience- aside from that, I did get brand recognition which was needed for the first year of the conference
  10. Market on LinkedIn & Twitter. I LOVE FACEBOOK- it’s my go to platform for social advertising and for a lot of my clients;  but for this conference, Linkedin and twitter sold most of the tickets. Promote Speaker promo Videos and blogs , promote what they can learn from the conference and the location- which was easy, as everyone loves Cork!
  11. Mailchimp is your best friend- we sold our first ticket through email marketing! Ensure you have a newsletter plugin (Mailmunch) on the website and entice sign ups with a special offer
  12. Use Olark to have a live chat with visitors on your website, I remember speaking with interested visitors who had questions about suitability etc. and because I answered their queries live, we sold more tickets
  13. We didn’t a massive budget to hire an event management company, but I would suggest in at least hiring a Tech / AV Person to take care of the sound and visuals- I relied on the staff at the conference centre we used to make sure this was perfect, but we had issues all throughout the first morning, luckily it was fixed after lunch
  14. Ensure you have a strong network of relevant Promo Partners who will promote the conference on their social media and to their network of businesses in exchange for complimentary tickets. Cork Chambers, Digital Marketing team at CIT and Cork City Leo were so helpful!

In all, I cannot wait to run 1 day workshops across Ireland, and a bigger and better conference in Cork next year! I am so grateful to all our attendees and promo partners for supporting us.

Hopefully this blog will help someone looking to start their first conference 🙂

Sarah

@sarahamplify