Guide to Online Marketing Conferences and Trade Shows, Part 1

I am frequently asked which of the industry trade shows are worth attending.  While PM Digital can’t attend every event, we do have better visibility to these shows than most, so below is the first of two installments that cover our thoughts and recommendations on the ever-expanding online marketing conference landscape.

Because PM Digital has a heavy penetration of retail clients, we attend many conferences in the retail category as will be evident in this roundup.  The list below takes into account that there are generally three reasons to attend trade shows:  1) networking, 2) keeping current, and 3) investigating new technologies.

eTail eTail hosts two big shows each year.  eTail West (which starts today) is the larger and runs from February 22-24 in Palm Desert; eTail East will be held in Baltimore from August 9-12.   I personally love the timing of the February eTail show since it’s the first big event after the holiday season.  People have had a few weeks to relax and breathe, but they also recognize that now is the time to launch new initiatives in order to maximize the next year-end holiday.  Attendees are definitely looking and researching at this conference.

A common criticism of the eTail shows is that it seems partial to vendors rather than retailers, and this manifests itself in sessions that occasionally sound like paid commercials.  Many of the session panels include vendors, and there are some big keynote slots given to vendors (and as a vendor, we are aware that there is a cost to speak at this show as well as some of the other events).   I once left a multivariate testing session and found one of the companies represented on the panel was also the manning the exits with one-sheeters.  I haven’t seen anything that blatant happen in a while but it’s a good example of how eTail developed its vendor-first reputation.  The August eTail conference is very convenient if you are on the East Coast, and I’ve found it attracts a high-level retail attendee.  It is much smaller than the West Coast show.

NEMOA – Otherwise known as the New England Mail Order Association, NEMOA typically holds a spring and fall conference each year.  The NEMOA Spring 2010 Conference runs from March 10-12 in Boston.  As one can deduce from the organization’s name, attendance is comprised largely of New England retailers, although a smattering of companies who are based elsewhere also come to this event.  This show definitely draws a high-level executive and is far more intimate than the other retail shows.  For example, content is delivered in a general session as opposed to the myriad of tracks and concurrent sessions you find elsewhere.  NEMOA has a very strict policy for its vendors in order to ensure that this conference is entirely retail-focused.  There are no exhibitors at NEMOA.

SES (Search Engine Strategies) and SMX (Search Marketing Expo) – These are rival companies who put on shows with similar search-engine related content.  Each has an East and West Coast show with smaller regional events in between.  SES New York will be held in its namesake city from March 22-26; SES San Francisco will run from August 16-20.  SMX West will be held March 2-4 in Santa Clara and SMX East in NYC from October 4-6.  These shows all have great search engine content spanning both PPC and SEO.  The SMX show has a reputation for being a little heavier on higher level SEO content whereas the SES shows gives equal weight to both.  If someone wants to immerse themselves in PPC and SEO, these shows are great – especially for those who do not have much (or any) contact with search engine vertical teams.  My recommendation would be to first attend SES for a more general overview and then try SMX if you are in need of deeper SEO content.

Click here for Part 2 of our Online Marketing Conference Guide.

Suzy Sandberg is President of PM Digital.

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