The Midwest Digital Marketing Conference attracted an audience of more than 200 people to the Blanche M. Touhill Performing Arts Center at the University of Missouri–St. Louis last Thursday as it returned to an in-person format for the first time since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The theme of the conference was “Fast Forward,” a nod to the shift marketing professionals have had to make after the height of the pandemic, and it featured panel discussions covering influencer marketing, TikTok, marketing in the Metaverse and post-pandemic B2B marketing with more than 20 speakers throughout the daylong event.
MDMC began in 2013 to provide a platform for industry professionals and hopefuls to discuss and share digital marketing knowledge and resources. As of 2019, it had grown to nearly 2,000 attendees and is now in the process of rebuilding its audience.
“MDMC was really built on a strong community,” said conference founder Perry Drake, an associate teaching professor and co-chair of UMSL’s Department of Marketing and Entrepreneurship. “And I’ll say a diverse community as well. Our ticket prices kind of allowed anybody to attend – small business owners, students, CEOs, whatever the case might be. So that’s really what propelled us to where we were before COVID, where we were almost hitting 2,000 in attendance. Trying to recreate that community is key for getting us back. It’s not going to happen overnight.”
Thursday’s event was a good starting point and brought some new people into the fold.
Lindsey Gamble, associate director of influencer innovation at Mavrck, an influencer-focused marketing firm in Boston, attended the conference as a panelist discussing influencer marketing but also took the perspective of an attendee.
“I attended the conference as an opportunity to share my knowledge but also learn from others,” Gamble said. “I think the digital marketing landscape is really unique, and there are a lot of people who provide value and have points of view. It’s great to get outside the Massachusetts area and come to a place I hadn’t been before to learn from others and continue to push the industry forward.”
Stephanie Lallas, brand partnerships manager at TikTok, opened the panel on the social media platform and emphasized its design for entertaining. She encouraged companies to experiment with content.
Matt Gardner, vice president, innovation & digital strategy with the St. Louis Blues, Enterprise Center & Stifel Theatre, was a member of the TikTok panel and spoke of the benefits of companies adapting their thinking when using the platform to reach more consumers.
“We’ve had to go into our process with a very different way of thinking and how we are going to brainstorm for content, monitor for trends and then how we execute,” Gardner said. “We have to make sure we’re doing so in a fashion that will be very impactful and allow us to appease our younger Blues fans that are using TikTok but also be done in a way that can help us continue to grow our community.”
Raquel Pitty-Diaz, brand strategist at marketing firm Paradowski Creative, was also part of the panel and said companies should find ways to attract audiences on TikTok even if they think their brand only appeals to older consumers.
“A lot of people think TikTok marketing is for Gen Z’ers or just any sort of social media is for Millennials and Gen Z’ers,” Pitty-Diaz said. “We just have to expand our sights because there are huge gaps. I feel like a lot of people are missing a lot of larger companies because those companies are too afraid to take a risk and go into these spaces.”
While speakers were at the conference to share insights, attendees wanted to learn and connect.
DeMetria Isabel, marketing specialist at Prairie Farms Dairy, Inc., was encouraged to attend the conference by her supervisor, Darren Copeland, who went in 2019. It turned out to be a great suggestion.
“I’ve really enjoyed it,” Isabel said. “The best aspect for me has just been hearing the panelists and what they have to share so that I can take it back to our company and utilize some of those suggestions and tips.”
Samuel Craig, digital strategist at Purina Northwest, received a scholarship to attend the MDMC while he was an UMSL student years ago and returned as an industry professional to learn and connect with colleagues.
“I wanted to come and hear the panels of all the people who work in the spaces I work in and learn anything I can,” Craig said. “I’m kind of like a sponge when it comes to digital marketing because it’s changing all the time. I’m trying to draw inspiration from what other people are doing.”
Education and engagement were the goals of the conference for Drake as well. He hopes attendees had a wonderful experience and will come to the next conference, which he and his team intend to hold in April.
“I’m hoping first of all we’re giving them some significant content they can take back and use in the workplace,” he said. “I see a lot of people taking great notes. They’re all using the apps to ask the questions, which is really good because you want that interaction. The second thing is I would love for them to come up to me and say, ‘Perry, I’m so excited that the MDMC is back. This is great. I can’t wait for next year.’”
Jeremy Corray, vice president of digital entertainment at a local video production studio, Coolfire, is looking forward to the next conference.
“MDMC has been ingrained in our marketing plans for nearly a decade now,” he said. “We’ve gotten some of our biggest clients from this conference. So anything we can do to support UMSL, Perry, the executive director of the conference, Brianna Miller and their team, we’re there. We’ve got to support St. Louis regional marketing. We’ve had tremendous success here. So, why not come back and do it all again?”