Gena Hill, a junior at Incarnate Word Academy, is the self-described “only teenager not on social media.” But intrigued, she went with her Girls Inc. group to the 10th annual Midwest Digital Marketing Conference last Monday and Tuesday at the University of Missouri–St. Louis.
She learned that she doesn’t have to use social media or want to be a marketing professional in order to utilize marketing tools and strategies.
“I’ve learned a lot about how to kind of like social media and how you market yourself in a way. It was very interesting,” she said. “I did learn more about AI too, because I know next to nothing about how you can use it as a tool for ideas.”
Currently looking at colleges, Hill will be using what she learned to put herself out there with recruiters.
Hill is just one of the nearly 600 people who attended the two-day event at the Millennium Student Center and Blanche M. Touhill Performing Arts Center. Not being an industry professional, Hill’s attendance, along with another teen organization – Youth Exploring Science at the St. Louis Science Center – demonstrated one of the conference’s strengths: its openness and accessibility as an educational event for a broad community.
“I think the price point of the conference kind of allows anybody to come,” said Perry Drake, the founder of the MDMC and an associate teaching professor who co-chairs the Department of Marketing and Entrepreneurship at UMSL. “It’s not just the C-suite level or higher level executives attending. We’ve gotten everybody here. That creates really good conversation because everybody has a seat at the table.”
Industry professionals got digital marketing insights from featured speakers from industry leading companies and organizations such as Anheuser-Busch, Bayer, Coegi and the National Institute for Social Media. Chris Phillips, a filmmaker, strategist, brand specialist and owner of Maverick Media Group, delivered the keynote address that discussed how to authentically reach diverse audiences using storytelling.
“There were a couple of things I wanted them to walk away with,” he said. “One was to understand the core values of the brands you’re working with and even within your own marketing and advertising agency. What are your core values? Let that shine through your work. And then, also to have a top-down approach, where people have to understand that a lot of the mishaps and mistakes that happen with marketing and advertising that we see right now – the insensitivity – also stems from the lack of diversity within because they don’t have proper representation or equal representation in the pipeline.”
Other sessions included video marketing, podcasting, the future of Artificial Intelligence, leveraging influencer marketing and how to maximize LinkedIn marketing, which was led by Ben Kniffen, owner of local marketing company LinkedSelling. He drilled down on how to increase lead generation and sales using the platform.
“Usually, people think they want to hear about LinkedIn, but what they really are trying to do is figure out the best B2B marketing strategy for their business or their company,” Kniffen said. “That’s usually what I end up talking on. It’s just under the cover of how to use LinkedIn because it’s one of the best B2B tools to use out there.”
Many attendees found the information not only valuable but relevant to their role and businesses. Daria Washington, a marketing coordinator at CD Companies, was pleased about what she learned at MDMC versus other resources.
“I think it’s a great conference,” she said. “It offers a lot of different varieties of topics as far as marketing – some niche topics that don’t really get covered a lot like podcasting and email marketing. I think so far, the takeaway is that everybody in your company can be a marketer, not just the marketing team.”
Erin Pohl, a development manager at LASE, a Christian educational services nonprofit, also found what she learned at the conference to be valuable.
“It’s really great seeing what all of these professionals have done and tried to do – what worked and what didn’t work,” she said. “That can really help me make a really informed decision because every dollar matters when you’re a nonprofit. Getting these live reviews or feedback, then also hearing about what didn’t work makes me think about different things that I could do and avoid, so that I don’t waste any money or time.”
Drake and his team are working toward growing the conference back to its pre-Covid size of about 2,000 attendees. They worked to make the topics not only relevant but also digestible for an audience of professionals in different roles and at different stages in their career.
“It’s not high-level stuff that you can see anywhere, it’s really impactful,” Drake said. “You can take it back to the office and utilize it. That’s what me and the team try to do when we pick the speakers and make sure they understand that the audience has to have key takeaways.”
Attendees appreciated the results.
“I don’t think people know how legit the business community is in St. Louis, even more so than a lot of other big cities,” Kniffen said. “It’s actually awesome that we have an event like this in our backyard. Usually, I think you got to fly to Vegas or LA or California for an event like this and to learn this type of stuff. It’s nice to have it in our own backyard at UMSL.”