Conferences provide wonderful opportunities for professional development, networking and job seeking. In some industries, meetings and exhibitions abound. For those of us in experiential marketing, there’s only one large national conference: the Experiential Marketing Summit. The next one is scheduled for May 3-5, 2017 at McCormick Place in Chicago

The Experiential Marketing Summit is managed by Event Marketer, a print and digital publisher that covers the event and trade show industries (and writes extensively on experiential marketing). The three-day gathering offers a wealth of opportunities for education, networking, inspiration and fun. A few members of our staff attend every year, and they always find it very worthwhile.

Are you wondering if the Experiential Marketing Summit is right for you? Here is a summary of what takes place at the annual event. Since the folks at Event Marketer haven’t released this year’s schedule yet, we looked back at the 2016 schedule to help you anticipate what you’ll find at the 2017 gathering. We’ll post updates as they become available.

You can also follow Event Marketer on Facebook and Twitter for Experiential Marketing Summit updates (the event doesn’t have its own accounts).

Keynote speeches

The Experiential Marketing Summit always finds some big-name keynote speakers, and 2016 was no exception. Adam Harter, vice president of consumer engagement for Pepsi, and Peter McGuinness, chief marketing officer for Chobani, delivered the keynote speeches.

In his presentation, Harter shared the five concepts that are now driving Pepsi’s live marketing events. They include understanding and incorporating broad cultural touchpoints; utilizing outstanding design; empowering people to be creators rather than just consumers; and blending the fantastic and factual to create extremely memorable results.

“We are in this amazing time where creativity has just run rampant across the world,” he told attendees. “Look at the creator community right now. All you need is a smartphone and an idea. You don’t need any permission. You don’t need any money. And the brands that enable these creators, these are the brands that are going to win.”

The theme of McGuinness’s presentation was staying authentic and true to mission (which can be especially challenging for brands experiencing monumental growth). His tips for doing that included taking a stand on issues (from ingredient sourcing to political issues) and sticking to them; doing a few things well rather than taking on lots of tasks and doing them poorly; treating employees well; and being sensitive to cultural issues.

Here’s a comment from his presentation that’s quite relevant to experiential marketing (something the brand uses a lot): “Often events and brand experiences don’t capture the heart and soul and essence of the brand. That is the challenge, and therein lies the magic. Never market in the middle. It is boring, it is bland and no one wants to engage in an experience in the middle. You have to have a sharp point of view.”

Workshops and more

The Experiential Marketing Summit offers dozens of workshops, master classes and clinics. Many are taught by senior staff and consultants for brands that seen big successes with experiential marketing (including Red Bull, SAP, Paypal, Honda and Bacardi).

Here’s a sampling of last year’s well-received workshops:

  • Anatomy of a brand experience and Experiential marketing 101: These entry-level workshops were designed to give attendees the fundamentals of creating outstanding experiential marketing activations.
  • The Coachella effect: Best practices for activating at music festivals: Jagermeister talked about the strategies that allowed it to really stand out at music festivals in the U.K. the past several years. They advised brands on putting together successful activations at these hugely popular events.
  • Lessons from Cadillac: Influencer recruitment and engagement: The brand and their agency discussed how and why to recruit influencers (and why celebrities aren’t necessarily the top choice anymore).
  • Cannabis events: Everything you need to know. Recreational marijuana has been legalized in a handful of states, and there’s huge potential to tap this new group of consumers. This workshop covered market demographics and ideas for activations and partnerships.
  • The UFC’s total takeovers: How to wire an entire city for fan engagement: UFC is a model for growing a sports franchise in a grassroots fashion. This workshop shared tips for using technology to connect fans and their followers to major events before, during and after they take place; and capitalizing on that exposure for brand building.

Solutions Center/Expo

The Experiential Marketing Summit has an expo, but they don’t call it that. Instead, it’s a “Solution Center” where experiential marketing pros can meet companies that can help them improve their activations and advance their careers. Over 100 companies typically attend to showcase their products and services. Since this is an experiential marketing event, many of these companies allow conference attendees to experience their products with all their senses while they visited the booths.

Some of the bigger names among last year’s Solutions Center exhibitors were Cvent, EventBase and General Growth Properties (which owns 115 malls in 41 states). There are also various experiential marketing agencies, logistics management companies, technology solutions agencies, tent and equipment rental firms, visitor’s bureaus and photo booth companies.

Networking

Last year over 1,500 people attended the Experiential Marketing Summit. Having so many professionals in one place creates some amazing networking opportunities. Attendees could mix and mingle with leaders from their favorite brands at several informal events, including a Women in Events mixer, networking dinner, breakfast and lunch gatherings, and after-parties.

Registration information

Have we convinced you that the Experiential Marketing Summit is worth checking out? You can register for the event online now. If you have colleagues who are interested in attending, make sure you register together; you can get a discount for buying a three-pack of passes. Prices go up after January 12, so now is the time to register if you want the best deals.

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