It costs a lot of money, involves travel including a spendy hotel, and features 1,300 attendees. Why did I go?
Once upon a time in my career, I was trying to fill in many professional blanks — better understand media relations, gain management knowledge, be a better writer, move up in my organization and make more money. I went to Conference first in ’95, then again in ’97, and the second time it wasn’t as valuable. Many of the same presenters on hand, and not as much new overall.
Still, I recommended the conference to others, particularly my contemporaries looking to learn. Then I got busy with career, and started looking for other things to attend — the Institute for PR Summit on Measurement, Joe Williams’ Dialogue in the Desert, Ragan. Next, I presented at some smaller conferences and started thinking about the big kahuna again. I went in 2010, and though I met a few people, it was tough — I stayed at a bed and breakfast, brought my wife along and had friends meet us there. I went to sessions, but missed out on dine-a-round and the usual camaraderie, and thus, walked away wondering why I’d gone.
This year, with the conference back in Toronto, I went again. Two dinners with great people I’d never met before. My wife attended the conference rather than waiting for me to be done. We stayed at the conference hotel. It was fun!
Invariably, when I get back from a conference I ask what business value (apart from learning) I received. For these large conferences, I’m often disappointed. My expectations are out of line — I have to treat these things as long-term investments in branding and general awareness. Through that prism, IABC14 was a smash – I live tweeted several portions, and wound up with new Twitter followers and some impressive tweet stats. Whether that means anything at all, I haven’t a clue. And I’m a measurement guy!
Perhaps I’m too much of a capitalist — I want ROI on this, not merely outtakes and outputs. Yet, I know that in the strictest sense, I’ve only been running my own show for five years — others have been at it much longer. Add to the mix the recent issues IABC has suffered (annus horriblus, definitely), and I need to do a better job of staying in the moment and not expecting the phone to ring straightaway.
I’m also a little late to the game here — and my incipient entry into the second half of my fifth decade has me a little spooked. The thing is, IABC has been very good to me. I’ve built a great professional network and made good friends. I’ve learned a lot and had the opportunity to teach others what I’ve learned. I’ve been to interesting places and sharpened my saw.
Will I go every year? Have to see. I’m leading PRSA’s employee communication section this year, so will have to go to the PRSA conference this fall (and meanwhile, my expenses are through the roof!), and there are industries whose conferences I should attend as well. (Hello, SSATB, NAIS, WBSA?) I love the IPRRC, and Connect.
I need more clients, obviously!