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Managing Marketing: What Makes A Great Marketing, Media & Advertising Event Like Mumbrella360

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Managing Marketing is a podcast hosted by TrinityP3 Founder and Global CEO, Darren Woolley. Each podcast is a conversation with a thought-leader, professional or practitioner of marketing and communications on the issues, insights and opportunities in the marketing management category. Ideal for marketers, advertisers, media and commercial communications professionals.

Damian Francis, the Head of Paid Content and the Curator for Mumbrella Events discusses some of the issues and challenges with sourcing great event content and balancing the commercial realities. He shares the philosophy of Mumbrella’s proactive approach to diversity and responds to some of the general industry criticism of industry events including “the lowest circle of marketing conference hell, the industry panel”.

Mumbrella360 #M360 will be held at the Hilton Sydney on June 4 – 6, 2019. Further information and tickets are available here.

You can listen to the podcast here:

Follow Managing Marketing on Soundcloud or iTunes

Transcription:

Darren:

Welcome to Managing Marketing. Today I’m joined by Damian Francis who’s head of paid content at Mumbrella but more importantly he’s the curator of the content for all the Mumbrella events including Mumbrella 360. Welcome, Damian.

Damian:

Thank you Darren, great to be here.

Darren:

Damian, It’s a big job isn’t it to curate what’s Australia’s largest Marketing and advertising event?

Damian:

It is a big job. It’s a huge event as you well know ‘cause I believe you’ve been to every single one of them.

Darren:

I’m desperate to spend three days mixing with my cohorts in marketing, media and advertising.

Damian:

We appreciate your patronage. Look it’s a huge job, not just because it’s a massive conference. The stats this year are, there are 60 sessions, two days, 15 master classes and 15 international speakers. The logistic of that are immense but it’s also a huge job as you know because we do a number of other events throughout the year.

Darren:

You’ve got your marketing summits throughout the year.

Damian:

Yes of which there are a number including but not limited to things like Automotive Marketing Summit, Health Marketing Summit, Retail Marketing Summit, Finance Marketing Summit, Travel Marketing Summit, so we’ve got a group of those also the B2B Marketing Summits.

Darren:

Sports Marketing Summits.

Damian:

I think we will get to the end if we keep going.

Darren:

I think I’ve attended almost all of them at least once.

Damian:

I believe you are a season pass holder. Look if you have, great. We certainly don’t expect you to have because we do have a lot and we do cover individual industries which won’t be necessarily appropriate to everyone and that’s the point of them.

Darren:

And then you’ve very specific ones that are not industry verticals but like Sage for agencies, especially independent agencies and Coms Con of course.

Damian:

So things outside the marketing summit idea like you said publish CommsCon and Sage which stands for Secrets of Agency Excellence, that’s what it originally stands for through it’s kind of moved away from it a bit like you said, but its independent agencies and there’s always good turnout for that.

And we’ve launched a new one this year, which is actually on Thursday this week, but that’s probably way in the past by the time people hear this, which is Mumbrella Audioland. Which is looking at the entire Audio industry of Marketing.

Darren:

Podcasting and Radio.

Damian:

Absolutely, where’s your money going when you buy audio space or podcasting.

Darren:

The irony talking about podcasting on a podcast. In fact, I saw the Marketoonist has done a cartoon about it saying welcome to my podcast, thank you for having me as I was a guest on your podcast and you were a guest on mine. It just gets so incestuous.

Damian:

We’ve sold out tickets, I’ll leave that with you.

Darren:

I have actually been on a Mumbrellacast twice. So there you go this is the return favour.

Damian:

You couldn’t get anyone better like Tim or Vivenne so you just stuck with me, I appreciate that.

Darren:

I would say having the role of curating so many events qualifies you to be a subject for a conversation on a podcast.

Damian:

I appreciate that. Look it is one of the bigger parts of our businesses as well as the conferences, everyone knows that. It’s something we are quite proud of and something we will continue to invest in. We will do more. We will do different things and it’s a big part of our business play moving forward.

Darren:

You bought up the business model. One of the things I really detest is, when I’ve paid to attend a conference and they have sponsored sessions and some organisers are really bad at it in that, almost 50 % of the content is sponsored sessions and they are basically sales pitches.

Damian:

Yes.

Darren:

How insulting for the audience to sit there, I’ve paid my money to attend, only to get pitched to. And there are some organisations; their whole business model, they basically get one keynote, then fill the rest of the session up. Now Mumbrella’s not like that but do have some sponsored sessions.

Damian:

Yes

Darren:

How do you make sure someone doesn’t do a sales pitch for 30 minutes?

Damian:

Look it’s a very good question. I’ll preface this all with, Mumbrella does its events quite differently. We have a team of essentially journalists who put these events together. I’m an ex journalist as you know I use to be the print editor for ad news so I’ve got the background there which is essentially why I’m doing my job now. The other people on my team are also journalists, our most recent recruit, Abigail Dawson is our senior media reporter for Mumbrella. That’s how we curate our events– is essentially is looking at it from an editorial perspective. As you mentioned a hundred percent you need to do sponsored sessions to make the business model work, but the trick is, the balancing act is getting those sponsored sessions to be valuable to the delegates which is not easy. So we take the view that they have to be worked on very closely with our team.

That’s either the content team that I’m working with or it’s people like Adam Thorn, our bespoke editor, who again, journalist by trade, and we go through that and tailor those sessions to be sessions that we hope the delegate find to be interesting so they are not just sales pitches, here’s the A to Z of how to use our product.

They are something a bit for valuable, dealing with topics that are a bit more relevant to the delegates rather than the sales pitch. That’s the idea. I hope we’ve pulled that off. I’ll let you be the judge of that because you’ve been to so many of our events.

Darren:

Look there are some events generally, I’ll agree but there are some sessions that clearly the sponsor didn’t get the message that it’s more valuable for them to impart some sort of information or entertainment or something other than sit there and ram their sales pitch down my throat.

Damian:

Absolutely, but that doesn’t just go for sponsored sessions, this goes for the editorially lead sessions as well. The amount of pitches that I take that are clearly just sales pitches is huge, at least every day a handful.

Darren:

Which you’d filter a lot of those.

Damian:

Which of course you’d filter a lot of them. The sad thing about it in a sense is that they are from reputable brands who have a lot to contribute to the industry who are pitching speakers who also have a lot to contribute to the industry as well. Whoever has pitched it, ‘cause it’s generally not the speaker who pitching generally, hasn’t put a huge amount of effort into tailoring a session to the conference that they are pitching to.

So it can take a fair bit of time to rework that or to go back and forth if it is worth it, in terms of the speaker and the topic. I know it’s not just a problem Mumbrella has, it’s one all conferences have.

Darren:

No it’s an industry problem.

Damian:

Absolutely. The trick is with those, is if it’s worth it, turning them around to be something of value.

Darren:

Absolutely. But what I’m wondering is, obviously you guys being journalists and taking an editorial approach you must have innumerable conversations with people trying to get them focused on delivering value to the audience. The reason I bring this up is that it was a conference in the UK where I’d been invited to do a session because the advisory board saw that I had something to contribute.

One of my competitors had paid a fortune to have their display in the expo area and they were completely furious with the organisers. Why is he getting a speaking gig and we couldn’t getting a speaking gig? I just felt so bad for the organisers because they were trying to explain to them we tried but you just wouldn’t play ball with coming up with something that wasn’t a sales pitch.

Damian:

It is a recurring problem. The one thing that I would suggest to anyone who’s putting forward ideas, is think of the delegate first and foremost. Don’t think of your direct business in terms of, you’ve obviously got a target to meet or a goal you are trying to achieve and you believe that standing up in front of 200 people in a session is the best way to achieve that or one of a number of ways you are going to achieve that. That’s fair enough, but are you really going to achieve that by shoving a sales pitch down the throat of someone? I would argue not.

Darren:

Well that’s for the expo. You are in the expo to pitch and really the presentation is about PR reputation, marketing, positioning in the market place isn’t it?

Damian:

Look at the end of the day people want to see the people on stage as thought leaders, idea generators, people they can look towards for some sort of guidance in their day to day job. How are you going to prove, that you are that person?

If you can tick those boxes you are probably going to get some pretty significant feedback. To your point, doing that is not a sales pitch, doing that is, sharing your knowledge and experience and sharing your interesting ideas.

Darren:

From our perspective, and we don’t pay to speak, we should be standing up there because what we have to say is of interest to the industry. I don’t think they should ever see it that they pay to do whatever they like. They still have to fulfil the obligation to the audience, which is to leave them somehow richer than when they walked into the room.

Damian:

Absolutely and this is why I say, we have a very specific way of working with our sponsored sessions. I’ll be completely up front because Mumbrella generally is completely up front about these sorts of things; sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.

And where it doesn’t we turn that around and look at how we fix that so it works next time. There are a very small amount of session where I’ve walked away going wow that really didn’t work, which is good.

Darren:

Means you are doing your job.

Damian:

I hope so.

Darren:

But also you get feedback from the participants. The Mumbrella App, every session there’s an opportunity to provide feedback.

Damian:

This is it, it’s not just me walking away giving myself a pat on the back going, well that really worked tonight, I’m bloody fantastic.

Darren:

Look at the bottom line. That’s great, that’s fantastic

Damian:

It’s looking at the App, looking at the feedback, looking at the email feedback we get, talking to the people on the day. People like yourself and other industry leaders are certainly not shy about their opinions and that’s the way we like it. We are not shy about ours either so when someone comes up to me and says, you know what, this session was fantastic, this session was rubbish, I will very happily take that opinion and find out why that was.

The amount of people that come up to me and give that latter opinion is less and less, which is good but when it does we take it seriously. If you were to come up to me and say Damo at Mumbrella 360 these are three sessions that I really disliked and one of them happened to be a sponsored session I’m going to treat all three exactly the same. I don’t care that it’s sponsored or not sponsored, how do we fix what the issue is?

Darren:

How do I either fix it or don’t make the same mistake again.

Damian:

Absolutely, at the end of the day the responsibility for all of the conferences sessions and this shouldn’t just go for the Mumbrella events but it lands on the curator. If there’s a crap session, come and tell me about it and rip me a new one, go for it.

Darren:

This is all events, comedy festivals, arts festivals, music festivals, if you’ve got a bad performing session, it can reflect incredibly badly on the whole event. What you really want to do is actually build the event as you’ve done with Mumbrella 360 so it gets bigger and bigger every year.

Damian:

A lot of the time I’ll say to people who ask, ‘what is the success metric that I use’, I answer, ‘can I get a similar or better level of delegates the next year’? I’ll know 2019 was a big success if in 2020 we get more people because that means people are coming back because they liked what they saw.

It’s hard to judge until you see the 2020 numbers coming in because a lot of people like to say good things to your face saying it was fantastic, I’ll never go again they mutter as they walk away from you, but in the end the numbers will tell.

We’ll see how it goes next year. We are putting on more events and we are seeing delegate increases year in year so that’s a good thing so far, he says, breathing uneasily.

Darren:

One of the things that Mumbrella did very publicly, was introduce getting a balance, a gender balance in the makeup of the content. Making sure that women and men were equally represented on things like panels, keynotes and things like that. That’s a very deliberate thing, has it been a difficult thing?

Damian:

It’s very deliberate; it’s not as difficult as you would potentially think, depending on how you think. It’s been interesting because now that we’ve started that and we’ve been following that a few years now. We are tending to see more female leaders in the industry put their names forward without us coming to them, which is fantastic.

We are still seeing events that are male dominated. We are also seeing events which are female dominated which you wouldn’t necessarily expect because of generalisations. Automotive, for example, for the last couple of events and it’s so big that we’ve now done a Melbourne Auto event, has had in general more pitches from female industry leaders which is great to see.

So I don’t have to correct it too often. I guess the biggest challenge we have is the audience or delegate perception in that the most common feedback I get is it wasn’t an exact 50/50 split. Why was that? Were you favouring men or women? No it’s not always going to be and I am 100% proud to say that I’m not looking to split.

Darren:

It’s not a numbers game. It’s a philosophic approach.

Damian:

It’s not a numbers game, its equal opportunity and it’s also the idea that we are getting the best people for that panel or presentation. Now if that’s 3 men and one women or 3 women and one man, that’s fine because those are the four people who are, in our view the best people to talk about that.

Darren:

Okay, so you’ve been focused on gender and I think diversity is really important, especially for marketing, media and advertising, which is that space which you operate in. Is there any intention or is there also built into what’s been largely a gender focus to also start looking at diversity beyond just gender? So what I’m talking here is age, race, and culture to bring in greater diversity in the overall programme.

Damian:

100%– in the ideal world I would be able to mix our conferences perfectly. It’s not the ideal world we would like it to be, we are working towards making it something like that. We will always have comments that go beyond gender diversity and that’s fair, we’ll take that on board.

Am I specifically looking for example cultural diversity or age diversity? Not specifically. I find age diversity is something that kind of naturally happens quite well at Mumbrella events. Cultural diversity, there are definitely some conferences that could be more culturally diverse.

Darren:

I guess one of the challenges is that the pool that you are drawing from is the industry itself and we know that the industry is really struggling with trying to open up those diversities across all those different areas. I think there has been a big focus with gender. Perhaps and hopefully diversity will start being expressed in every form once we get that balance right.

Damian:

Absolutely, and like I say it’s something we are not going to shy away from and it’s something we will try to look at and try to balance that with the best people we can possibly get to speak at our events. To your point, it’s an industry pool that we are drawing from and it’s a fascinating industry to monitor and watch.

Not least from the angle of myself being the son of immigrants; the Singaporean guy who has an Australian accent. Have I ever met another Singaporean in this industry? I can’t say I have but it’s not something we can fix overnight, like gender diversity but it is something we are definitely looking at.

Darren:

At least creating the opportunity for people in the industry that are not the same voices—let’s be honest, as a middle aged or aging white male I should be the last person who gets a speaking gig on your profile ’cause I’m over-represented.

Damian:

Yeah, one could argue that but the other argument that we’ve always said and this goes back to our comment thread on our website; everyone has an opinion and who are we to say you’re not entitled to it.

Darren:

But everyone has an arsehole as well so I’m not sure that that’s a good argument. I don’t know if you saw this but Mark Ritson recently wrote an article where he said, “attend enough marketing conferences and all of them start to feel essentially the same: a slightly greying director in black jeans shares stories of big agency success, a perky CMO from overseas tells you all about the power of purpose and she harnessed it to generate 900% …, then a big keynote from someone you’ve never heard of (but assume you’re supposed to) involves him sharing his ads and proves empty to the point of tedium”.

This is a fairly cynical view of marketing conferences but you would have to say that the industry can often fall into this trap.

Damian:

Like I said before, everyone’s entitled to their opinion; Mark certainly has one or two or 100s, all of which are quite fascinating to be fair, to the point where he’s speaking at Mumbrella 360 three times.

Darren:

Because he has an opinion and, more importantly, he expresses it in a way that’s entertaining.

Damian:

In a very entertaining way—you’re absolutely right. To his point on conferences; I’m not going to disagree with him. There are a lot that fall into a trap of producing the same sort of thing year in and year out and it’s almost a formula.

We are trying very hard not to be that but it takes a lot of effort. We’ve got a lot of people at Mumbrella whose job it is to make sure that doesn’t happen. It’s not just a matter of saying ‘I’m heading up our event content, it’s up to me’ because you need more than one person to make sure that that actually happens.

Darren:

I’ll just pick up on something there, Damian. You said there are a lot of conferences—this is a really competitive category that you’ve found yourself in.

Damian:

Absolutely. There are a lot of conferences and a lot of them do well and some of them don’t but there is also a lot of need. Whether we’re actually filling that need or not—that’s the challenge because you can do well one year and then completely fall to bits the next year because people came to your conference the year before and thought that was rubbish.

It’s like I said before, I’ll judge my success based on the next year if we keep it going. The competition is huge. There are a lot of events that cover similar topics if not exactly the same. That happens to a number of our events but we still have very strong delegate numbers that allow us to make this a) very entertaining and informative for the delegates and b) a good business model for Mumbrella. Obviously, you have to balance both and that doesn’t look like it’s going to change.

But we very specifically put a lot of effort into trying to do things a bit differently. And again, when we don’t we get told and we do things about it. That’s the other difference for us, that we do act on the feedback because if we don’t this is a small industry; everyone knows everyone and word spreads quickly. If we don’t act on what people say then we will lose them very quickly.

Darren:

I’ll go on, “a session on media disruption follows’ and we’ve all sat through that ‘and then we reach the lowest circle of marketing conference hell: the industry panel. Four usual suspects balanced on high chairs look respectfully at whoever is speaking and give inanely ‘shit’ answers to clichéd questions like, ‘should you trust your gut or go with the data?’ ‘Just how important is creativity?’ ‘And how do we stop the CFO from making us short-termist?’”

He’s got a good point about panels because from my experience they’re really hard work to make work well.

Damian:

I’ve just got a great idea from that; disruption’s a thing? Did I miss something? Panels, you’re right, I should have used that as a way to run out of the room very quickly. They draw mixed reaction from the industry and we’ve had people who love panels and people who say we hate panels, why do we keep putting panels on?

You can’t run away from that fact and you also can’t run away from the fact that panels are a fine art to do very well. They are hard to do that. We try to get four speakers on our panels because we like to give difference of opinion and that doesn’t always work because you’ll get someone who gets talked over and will shy away into a corner or someone who talks a good game prior to the panel and then sits on the panel and says the same stuff over and over again.

Darren:

There’s nothing worse than when all 4 people basically agree with each other on every point. You might as well have just had a keynote and said, ‘here’s the way it is’.

Damian:

I’d argue there are a lot of things that are equally as bad if not worse. I hate panels where one person talks for the whole 45 minutes and doesn’t let anyone else in.

Darren:

So, is the secret to making panels work having a great moderator or is it about having the right people on the panel or is it about having both?

Damian:

He says, looking at me intently because he has moderated a number of Mumbrella panels, Darren.

Darren:

A number of industry panels.

Damian:

You have, indeed but as you know specifically it takes a hell of a lot of time to do properly. You sit there and go through the stats and the facts and the research and then you talk to all the panel members and then you try and find the best way through this conversation that will keep everyone engaged and keep everyone on the panel entertained themselves by being able to share their view.

That takes a lot of work. That takes hours and hours if not days to get right, which is why we will only do a panel if we feel we can dedicate that time to it and it doesn’t always work. Sometimes it does. Like most sessions it’s a bit of a risk.

Darren:

Some people say that moderating a panel you need journalistic skills to build the narrative and to get the panel to tell the story and as the moderator you need to build that story.

Having said that I’ve seen journalists run panels and they don’t get that performance.

Damian:

No, I don’t necessarily believe it’s a 100% journalistic skill but it’s also industry knowledge because you need to know what you’re talking about. There’s no point doing a vague broad panel because that’s exactly what Mark Ritson is describing in that article you read out. You need to go deep on panels, to talk about specifics, to go into industry questions that aren’t broad, that are focused so that you can actually pull out some interesting insights that people might not have thought about or known about.

To do that you need a moderator who has that industry expertise. That’s why we rely on people like you to moderate some of our sessions. I’ll balance that out by saying people like Kim McKay from Klick Communications, one of our great moderators, because she balances the journalistic skill with the industry knowledge and she’s also not afraid to ask hard questions.

Darren:

I think that’s one of the things. And I know, having participated in Mumbrella 360 in Asia, people are very concerned about asking an awkward question of the panel because of not wanting to upset the panellist. But I think that even happens here to a less obvious extent.

You must get a lot of people proposing panels, right?

Damian:

We get a lot of people proposing panels but we won’t let through a lot of them because of all the point we’ve just discussed. It’s easy to propose a panel because you just say here are our speakers and here’s the moderator and we’re going talk about a one sentence topic.

That’s not going to fly for delegates. There needs to be so much work put into that to make sure something like that works. And there has to be variety in those panels members. They have to be people who are looking at it from completely different aspects too. It’s really difficult—a lot of people do get it wrong and hence there is this idea in the industry from some that panels are rubbish and not worth the time.

I’m not on a crusade to change their opinion necessarily but I am still going to put on panels that I believe can hold value for the delegates.

Darren:

It really falls to the moderator. What I’d say is if there are people out there suggesting they’re going to do a panel they need to, as the moderator, take the responsibility for making that work.

Damian:

Yes.

Darren:

I’ve seen too many pedestrian panels where someone has got 4 or 5 questions and they basically go through the list and they’re not even listening to what the panel is saying to make it interactive.

Damian:

Yes, I’m going to say I agree 95%. The other 5% I’d say is, harking back to my job,—the conference curator or the conference itself has to take the responsibility of ensuring that the people they’re putting forward are equipped to do what you’ve asked them to do.

So, there is no point asking an industry expert to put forward a panel if you’re not going to sit down with them afterwards and go ‘right, here are the questions I think you should ask, what do you think?’ and have that discussion. Here are some of the awkward points within that discussion as well, which we know the delegates are going to want to know and have that discussion. And here’s what actually works in terms of being a moderator.

This is what you have to do. This is your job. Get the panels members equally involved. Go to the audience when they have questions. If you don’t get a response to your questions go back, ask it again. Not everyone’s media trained—we kind of assume they are. If you want to put them on as moderators and put a panel session on you’ve got to be prepared to do the work to make sure it works.

Darren:

Perhaps that’s an idea; Mumbrella could start offering media training.

Damian:

Maybe.

Darren:

I can see another revenue stream there.

Damian:

I’m a little too busy for that at the moment but I hear our editorial team is great.

Darren:

Absolutely. Really looking forward to the events coming up—there’s Mumbrella 360 obviously every year, you’ve got your marketing summits sprinkled throughout the year.

Damian:

That’s it.

Darren:

Thanks for making the time—you must be incredibly busy.

Damian:

Thank you for having me. I think everyone in this industry so appreciates you doing this podcast as well and taking the time to discuss the topics.

Darren:

One final question before you go. What is the most memorable session you’ve ever had?

Ideal for marketers, advertisers, media and commercial communications professionals, Managing Marketing is a podcast hosted by Darren Woolley. Access all the episodes here

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Darren is considered a thought leader on all aspects of marketing management. A Problem Solver, Negotiator, Founder & Global CEO of TrinityP3 - Marketing Management Consultants, founding member of the Marketing FIRST Forum and Author. He is also a Past-Chair of the Australian Marketing Institute, Ex-Medical Scientist and Ex-Creative Director. And in his spare time he sleeps. Darren's Bio Here Email: darren@trinityp3.com

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