Should your agency create its own annual conference event?

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Delegates from last year's Benchmark conference from Click.

When Click Consult launched the Benchmark Search and Digital Marketing Conference back in 2015, we did so with the intention to promote the agency’s expertise and establish Click, our team and the region as industry and thought leaders.

Benchmark has played a massive roll in building our profile in in the industry – along with a broader commitment to knowledge sharing that has seen the agency produce more than 100 downloadable eBooks and infographics, increase the quality and expert knowledge on offer on the blog, create a quarterly search and digital marketing magazine and send staff to attend and speak at events all over the UK.

I’m a big believer in trusting expertise – so when it came to arranging a conference that would do Click justice and provide an excellent learning experience for the attendees, I knew we’d need to find a partner for the event. With the help of Don’t Panic – a Greater Manchester based Events Company – we were able to piece together our first conference.

Stay focused

A conference is an expensive thing to run, however, and it’s also a difficult prospect for a new conference to enter what was, at the time, a fairly crowded field. For that reason, we decided to limit attendees to in-house marketers – client side specialists who, we felt, would gain the most learning from experts at the industry’s cutting edge.

While this decision limited our potential audience, it did mean that we could ensure a great experience on the day of the conference – which we would, and still do, offer for free – without overspending.

The second hurdle was to ensure that we made the trip worthwhile for the delegates – and so, we added contacts that we’ve made at award ceremonies, other conferences and events to those that Don’t Panic had made in the past, we were able to assemble a list of speakers which included Microsoft, Expedia, The Co-op, Vodafone and more.

Over the years, we’ve sought out the best speakers at conferences our staff speak at and attend, and looked to offer a fresh and informative line-up every year. We’re lucky that though the industry has grown far beyond its humble beginnings, it has retained the community spirit that made it special – and many of the industry’s best, most inspiring, and most educational speakers are happy for the chance to help others learn.

The important thing to remember is to ensure you’re a part of that community and are willing to share your knowledge and participate This give and take will ensure that you’ll develop fantastic relationships – business and personal – at the online and offline events common in the industry.

Event evolution

While the first event was never intended to be the last, the feedback from our first 150 person crowd – especially those pleased that there was finally an event such as Benchmark in the North – ensured that we would do it again. We monitored the conference hashtag, carried out sentiment analysis, sent out post conference emails with requests for feedback and, when the next year rolled around (quicker than we could have imagined), we did so with the feedback in mind – providing note taking materials, bags and other conference essentials, adding a networking session to help our delegates network and swap ideas after the event and, due to demand, we accepted more ticket applications.

2019, by comparison, is our second conference at the Hilton Manchester Deansgate hotel, and we expect more than 400 attendees – which we are able to part finance through sponsorship and, while we still shoulder much of the financial burden, we find that the boost to Click’s profile over the last five years and the consequent rise in interest from larger and larger brands has been worth the expenditure.

For any agency interested in starting their own event – I’d say there are certainly more relaxing ways to spend your time, and our marketing department do tend to age a couple of years around conference time, but there are few better ways to meet and learn from experts than at conferences.

Attend Brighton SEO, attend Search Love and Search Leeds, join your local SEO meetup group and learn what you can, meet the speakers and take away what you like about the various events before considering your own. Staging a conference is more difficult than it looks – but there are people that have been doing it a long time, and they’re mostly happy to help.

Matt Bullas is chief executive at Click Consult

Benchmark Search & Digital Conference 2019 will take place on 11 September at Manchester’s Hilton Deansgate hotel, housed in the city’s iconic 47-story Beetham Tower. Headline sponsored by Ahref and sponsored by OnCrawl and Ceuta Group, the one-day event will feature speakers from brands including Vodafone, JustGiving, Bing Ads, Google, Cannon Europe and many more. Apply for your ticket today!

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