Last week, both local and global interactive agency leaders came to the DC area to share their knowledge, discuss the web, and network at Interact08. Unlike most of the interactive conferences I have attended, this event focused on big agency and advertising. It was a fantastic experience to sneak a peak into the world of big brand web marketing; but, it left a lot of room for improvement. With speakers representing many big agencies such as Saatchi & Saatchi and Digitas, a standout from the talks was Viget's own Brian Williams (and I am not just saying that because he is my boss). With so many speakers focusing on flashy advertising, social media, and a host of overused buzzwords, Brian's presentation was titled "What Marketers Need to Learn From Geeks to Survive." Rather than focusing on how to market an online product, Brian urged the audience to "embrace your inner geek" and learn the technologies for yourself. One of my favorite points that he made was that "no one cares what you think they should think, they just care if the product works," using Google as an example. This talk stood out for me because I can relate. There is nothing more frustrating than an elaborate advertising campaign executed by people who do not fully understand the in's and out's of the technology themselves. Perhaps this line of thinking is why I find myself so at home at Viget. Overall, this conference had its ups and downs. Talking with attendees, it seemed to me that more were chatting about the event itself rather than the content of the speakers or the presence of the exhibitors. While I think Interact08 was great for the DC community, I would like to suggest some things that should be thought about if there are plans for a future conference
What went well:
There was a nice mix of local agencies to network with. There were many DC-area interactive agencies present, allowing for a fantastic, intimate networking opportunity. It gave me a chance to match faces with brands and really get my hands dirty finding out the nature of their business. It was good to bring in some out-of-towners. Bringing in a list of well-known agency representatives made this conference accessible for those who would like to participate in the community but not take any time off work for travel. I was able to check my mail in the office the same morning that I got to hear from Joe Crump of Avenue A/Razorfish and Nick Law of R/GA. It supported the local community. It gave many DC-area interactive leaders an opportunity to speak to their local community. Joanna Champagne of the National Gallery of Art and Tim McLaughlin of Siteworx had an opportunity to contribute to the area that they consider home.
What could have been improved:
Too business. Business casual attire, sparkling water in glass bottles, and a hefty ticket price does not reflect the culture in the interactive community. The environment of this event catered more to DC business culture than it did the culture of those who do web business, and I think if it was a more relaxed atmosphere would probably attract a larger and more diverse crowd. Ever-changing speaker line-up. The original speaker schedule for this event included a lot of big design names who never made it to the stage. Many of the speakers who had incredibly interesting presentations were reduced to 15 minutes or even 5 minutes of stage time. This caused many speakers to sound rushed. Topics discussed. It seemed to be a trend among speakers to use their time slots to show entertaining work that their agency completed or big brand concepts. A stronger focus on education may be a better angle to take. Overall there were a lot of inspiring talks, but they left me with few practical take-aways. In conclusion, Interact 08 was a conference with lots of potential, a few big advertising names, lots of buzzwords, and really fancy sparkling water. I have high hopes that this conference will continue to mature and become a great local resource for education in the local DC Interactive agency community.