Midwest Digital Marketing Conference continues to build post-pandemic momentum with three-day event on UMSL’s campus

by | May 20, 2024

The 12th annual conference featured more than 75 presenters and speakers, spread over 40 sessions, to educate and entertain 575 attendees at this year's event.
Stephanie Garcia

Stephanie Garcia, CEO of Lights, Camera, Live gives the keynote presentation, “Unknown to Unforgetable: The Art and Science to Being Irresistable on Camera,” at the Midwest Digital Marketing Conference held at the Touhill Performing Arts Center on the University of Missouri-St. Louis campus. (Photo by Derik Holtmann)

The 12th annual Midwest Digital Marketing Conference, held last week primarily at the Blanche M. Touhill Performing Arts Center on the campus of the University of Missouri–St. Louis, shared plenty of things in common with previous MDMC experiences.

For starters, keynote speakers Raashi Rosenberger, the head of global brand for Meta Quest (formerly Oculus), and Stephanie Garcia, CEO of Lights, Camera, Live, returned to educate and entertain attendees at the 2024 event.

“This is my sixth year joining the MDMC,” Rosenberger told the crowd as she started her keynote presentation on Wednesday. “I love to be part of this conference, and I also love coming back to St. Louis. I live in Brooklyn, New York, but I grew up here in St. Louis, and any opportunity to come back to visit my hometown is exactly what I need.”

Rosenberger was a student of MDMC founder Perry Drake, now the chair of UMSL’s Department of Marketing and Entrepreneurship, when he taught at New York University. She spoke about how Meta Quest set about changing the brand’s perception as the product evolved. Then, she stayed near the stage after her presentation and interacted with a long line of attendees. “Raashi, she loves the engagement, loves being here, loves being a part of what we’re doing,” Drake said.

As always, there were lots of connections made, lots of conversations explored and lots of ideas generated and progressed over the three days.

“With all the buzz that’s been happening around the MDMC today, I hear you’re looking for advanced strategies on how you can communicate with confidence,” Garcia said, starting her keynote on Tuesday afternoon. “How do you get audiences to stop, look and listen to what it is you have to say? Am I right or am I right? Awesome, because that’s exactly what we’re going to talk about today.”

This year’s MDMC included 575 attendees and more than 75 speakers and presenters. In addition to the 40 sessions at the Touhill Center on Tuesday and Wednesday, the 2024 MDMC featured seven workshops on Monday at Anheuser-Busch Hall, which is home to the UMSL College of Business Administration.

“I’m thrilled,” Drake said. “The level of engagement makes me happy, as long as people are enjoying themselves, connecting, communicating, and that’s what I’ve seen.”

Perry Drake

Perry Drake, founder of the MDMC, talks with the crowd before Tuesday’s keynote. (Photo by Derik Holtmann)

The MDMC leadership team includes Drake, Mindy Choo (executive director), Thomas O’Connell (production director), Rebecca Bechtel and Nick Schreiber (graduate assistant) and Alex Hill (intern), as well as the UMSL Marketing Club. DemandJump, the pillar-based marketing software tool, was back as the title sponsor again in 2024.

The conference offered a wide varieties of sessions throughout Tuesday and Wednesday with three running concurrently in the Touhill’s Anheuser-Busch Performance Hall, Whitaker Hall and E. Desmond and Mary Ann Lee Theater, giving attendees plenty of topic choices.

Sessions included subjects like providing an immersive experience at CITYPARK, home of the CITY SC soccer team, several sessions on Search Engine Optimization and Google Analytics, and marketing through social media, among others. Also, there were five panel discussions.

Ebbi Nicole, a digital strategist and founder of E.T. Digital Consulting, hosted a session on Tuesday in Whitaker Hall titled “Storytelling Mastery for Marketers: Unlocking Narratives to Connect, Engage & Convert.” She was thrilled with how the session unfolded.

“My session was packed and engaged,” she said. “A lot of people were snapping photos, taking notes, asking and answering questions. Afterwards, so many people came up to me and gushed about all the gems they got from the presentation. I couldn’t have imagined a better audience.”

In addition to teaching her session, Nicole learned from sessions she attended, too. The Wednesday panel on Entrepreneurship, Leadership and Growth – with Akeem Shannon, Brian Moncey and Vanessa Cabrera – really resonated.

“That was an awesome conversation,” she said. “It’s rare that founders openly discuss the mental and emotional effects of entrepreneurship. It was refreshing to hear about the highs and lows of the journey. After all, I can totally relate, and I know a lot of other people can too.”

One of the things Drake loves about the MDMC is how the conference offers something for everyone, from professionals looking to gain knowledge to help advance their careers, to college students at UMSL and elsewhere, to young potential entrepreneurs. This year, Drake and the MDMC welcomed youth groups from Girls, Inc., the YES (Youth Exploring Science) program at the St. Louis Science Center and NFTE (Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship).

“We wanted to bring them back, introduce them to various speakers and just to be motivated by how they became successful. So that’s been going great,” Drake said. “We brought in Mr. Fresh, who was one of our entrepreneurs from the Anchor Accelerator program from last year. He’s 14 years old. We brought him in and gave him a table, just to make some connections to help him push this business even more forward. I connected him with a few key speakers.”

The first three MDMC events (2013-14-15) were on UMSL’s campus, but as the conference grew and its reputation spread, Drake moved the event to Union Station in downtown St. Louis to accommodate the expansion. In the first year at Union Station, there were close to 800 attendees. By 2019, that number had jumped to nearly 2,000, with more than 125 speakers and presenters and as many as eight sessions were running concurrently.

But 2020 was the year of the COVID-19 pandemic, halting the momentum and forcing Drake and his crew to quickly shift to an online version of the event. He credits Garcia’s assistance in making that transition work on a short timeline. “Stephanie, she was critical to helping us pivot quickly,” Drake said. “We reached out to her to see if she could help us make sure we produced it really crisply and smartly. And she did, she helped us in a big way.”

The 2021 MDMC was online-only, too, but the event was back on UMSL’s campus starting in 2022. The process of growing has started again.

“Our goal is to get back to Union Station,” Drake said. “We’re gonna grow it carefully, but smartly.”

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Ryan Fagan

Ryan Fagan

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