Bigger, better every year: Midwest Digital Marketing Conference had Union Station buzzing

Exhibitors lined St. Louis Union Station Wednesday and Thursday for the 2017 Midwest Digital Marketing Conference. The UMSL-produced event attracted nearly 2,000 attendees. (Photos by August Jennewein)

St. Louis Union Station, once one of the world’s largest and busiest train stations, bustled with bodies again as people hurried to make connections Wednesday and Thursday.

But instead of catching trains, people were catching sessions of the 2017 Midwest Digital Marketing Conference, a two-day extravaganza of industry knowledge sharing at the converted hotel.

Edward Jones Financial Advisor Ben Zuckerman talks about applying lateral thinking to LinkedIn and building a stronger profile that brands yourself and attracts clients.

In its second year at the downtown historic landmark and fifth year overall, the University of Missouri–St. Louis-produced conference has grown into a digital marketer-must for those in the Midwest. Nearly 2,000 people attended this year.

The list of presenters included experts from companies such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Pandora, Google, IBM, GoDaddy, FleishmanHillard, Adobe and BuzzFeed.

Perry Drake, the director of business collaboration and an assistant teaching professor of digital and social media marketing in the College of Business Administration at UMSL, is the founder and energy behind the multifaceted, annual event.

“Perry teaches us and pushes us to get out and network,” said Nicholas Sylvia, a UMSL business student who volunteered at the conference. “This [MDMC] is such a big deal, and he’s really showing us the importance of taking advantage of opportunities like this to make those connections.”

Business student Nicholas Sylvia (at right) was working his networking skills while volunteering at MDMC. Here, he’s connected with Chris Strub, the first person to live stream from all 50 states. (Photo by Chris Strub)

Sylvia volunteered alongside a dozen other UMSL students at MDMC, helping direct conferencegoers, answer questions and pass out lanyards. The students got to attend sessions for free on the second day. Sylvia, who is also president of the UMSL Marketing Club, had the opportunity to have some of the BuzzFeed experts speak at a club meeting as well.

“It was intimidating at first,” he said of meeting the BuzzFeed pros, “but really they are such down-to-earth people who wanted to share their marketing knowledge. Talking with them, I learned how to target millennials and what makes engaging video content.”

Social Media Marketing Adjunct Professor Sarah Dalton served as the moderator for the BuzzFeed session where the internet media company’s directors of brand strategy Kelly Basinger and Rachel Adams presented on content strategy.

“I really admire the work they’ve done,” Dalton said. “They’re such a big player. Who doesn’t know BuzzFeed?”

Basinger and Adams particularly addressed BuzzFeed’s tactic in using “identity pieces” to draw in people that identify with certain traits, occupations or hobbies.

For example, if a person is left-handed, they probably will click on the headline that reads “12 things left-handed people face daily” because they identify with the content. Even better, because almost everyone knows someone who is left-handed, the piece becomes widely applicable and shareable content. People send the article on to their friends and family members who are left-handed, increasing reach.

Beyond creating the opportunity to meet and learn from top digital marketers, Dalton also expressed MDMC’s importance for the region.

BuzzFeed Director of Brand Strategy Kelly Basinger (left) answers a question from the audience about the company’s content creation process as additional BuzzFeed Director of Brand Strategy Rachel Adams (center) listens. Social Media Marketing Adjunct Professor Sarah Dalton (at right) moderated the session.

“It helps us in the Midwest stay on the same level as folks on the coasts,” she said.

During the conference, the MDMC hashtag (#MDMC17) was trending on Twitter and even held the top trend spot for a couple of hours.

Besides the wealth of speakers, MDMC also hosted a networking and career development fair, executive roundtable, a startup pitch competition, a Rise of the Digital Educator Summit and an opening night party.

This year’s conference was presented by Spectrum Reach and had more than 30 sponsors.

Prior to the conference, Perry Drake spoke with ALIVE Magazine about founding MDMC, the conference’s overall goal and what to expect in years to come. Click here to read the full Q&A.

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