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The Inbounder: From Dream to Reality; Building a Global Conference in a Year

In May of this year in Valencia the conference The Inbounder takes place. This conference came out of nowhere and now has an incredible line up. Together with organiser Gianluca Fiorelli we try to figure out what is the secret to organising an event like that.

Personally I speak at a lot of conferences world wide (as some of you may have noticed ;-)). A lot of the times I’ve been asked “When is State of Digital going to do a conference?”. There are a few reasons why we haven’t yet, but the two main reasons are: 1) it’s a hell of a lot of work and 2) there are already so many great conferences out there. One of those is The Inbounder in Valencia, which sees its second conference this year. The first official big ‘global’ one.

Starting a new conference isn’t easy. Yet one of our team members, Gianluca Fiorelli, decided to go for it anyway. Last year he organised the first version of “The Inbounder” in Valencia. An instant success with speakers like Rand Fishkin, Lisa Myers, Aleyda Solis, Fernando Macia and yours truly showing up. It was truly a great conference to speak at and attend.

This May, Gianluca goes for version 2 of the conference. And wow, has he pulled of a speaker line up to be proud of. Next to the speakers from last year there are big names like Joanna Lord, Marcus Tandler, Sam Noble, Will Critchlow, Will Reynolds, Nathalie Nahai and many others on the list of speakers. Over a 1,000 attendees will be listening. Gianluca has built one of the major conferences in Europe, within a year (and a half). Time to see what we can learn from that. We spoke to Gianluca and gathered some valuable lessons.

Why oh why?

Why oh why would someone want to set up a conference? It’s hard work, there is a lot of competition and money wise it isn’t the big pot of gold coming in right away. So why even think about it? For Gianluca it wasn’t really that big of decision. It turns out he had dreamt of it for years.

During the years of traveling himself to conferences to speak or attend, his dream started shaping up.

Gianluca says:

“I started fantasizing about creating an event in Valencia, which could become a pole of attraction for web marketers from all over Europe, and to set itself as a reference. I know, an ambitious dream, but if you don’t dream cheap dreams, do you?”

The dream was triggered because on his travels he noticed a couple of things. First of all he realised that meeting the people in the industry was extremely valuable. However, he had the opportunity to fly around, not everyone has that opportunity. Secondly, he realised he was missing something at conferences.

“One of the things that I was missing (and still am missing), even in the best organized events, is variety. In fact, conferences in our field tends to be very strongly USA/UK focused when it comes to speakers.”

And so his dream shaped up.

“My dream event was a conference where professionals from “Northern Europe/USA” and Southern Europe could share their experience, both as speakers and attendees. This way – hopefully – incepting each other with renewed ideas and perspectives about how to do web marketing.”

What we can learn from Gianluca on the “Why”

So what can we learn from this? If you want to organise an event there are a few things you need to have:

1. You need to have a passion for it
2. You need to see a ‘gap’ in the market: what makes your conference different from another?

Organising an event can have it’s benefits:

1. An event can create awareness and trust for your brand;
2. An event can create serendipity, which is the unmeasurable secret metric of things like new partnerships, new clients, new growth opportunities.
3. An event creates content and ideas for future use
4. An event can create great connections.

The What

Next up is the “What”. What is important in a conference, what is easy and what is difficult. And what makes you stand out?

The easy part

When asked what was easy, Gianluca is very straight forward:

“Once I made the first step last year, and organized the first experimental edition of The Inbounder, finding a partner for organizing its first official international edition was easier than I thought it would be. I think this is something other people, who maybe have a dream similar to mine, should take notice of.”

The difficult part

The difficulties are in the area you would expect them to be: logistics and money. Logistics are especially difficult when you’ve never organised an event before, after all, everything is new. So Gianluca welcomed help from the outside:

“Luckily, we found a great partner in the conference venue itself, which modularity will help us organizing the event in the same place even if the attendees are less or more than the previewed ones. “

Another thing that was difficult was sponsorships. To pull off an event like this you need sponsors. It’s not easy. Most digital marketing conferences will look at tools and software brands here. That makes that your in competition with other events for the money of the happy few. Even if you are not after making money.

Gianluca says:

“If you are the event sponsorship manager for a SAAS in the web marketing industry, and you are looking for a great event to be part of, contact me!”

What we can learn from Gianluca on the “What”

1. It’s important to ‘test out’ your conference. Start small, learn from it and go from there.
2. Find people to work with. Doing it alone is more difficult.
3. Difficulties will lie in logistics and money

The How

And then the real work starts…

Getting speakers

The biggest thing about organising a conference without a doubt is getting speakers. Without speakers there is no conference. What’s important here is connections. Knowing people in the industry will make it a lot easier to get speakers.

Gianluca says: “I did get them thanks to all the connections I was able to create along the years. If I did have those, I would have probably had bigger difficulties for convincing them to choose to speak at The Inbounder instead of any other conference.”

Gianluca says it’s important to start early when trying to get speakers. “Many of them have their full agenda with six months or more anticipation.”

It’s also important to learn how to say “no”, Gianluca says. This because as a conference organiser you will get a lot of people trying to be part of the conference, especially when they see big names on there. This includes people you may know:

“You have to be able to say respectfully no, especially if you are contacted by people you know personally. If not you will find yourself in big difficulties about how to design a consistent agenda. Personally, if I would have said yes or invited all the people I esteem in our industry, I could have to create a one-week event.”

Creating the program

When you have the speakers, you need to build up a great program. Gianluca explains:

“First of all I made clear to myself what I wanted The Inbounder to be about. Once I decided that the main topic was ‘How to do marketing using the Inbound channels’, I started thinking about who were the best speakers for those topics over the base of having personally seen them talking.

This is important to consider, because unfortunately it is not always true that a magnificent blogger is also a great speaker. Another facet I had to consider was to find a balance between UK/USA speakers and “European” ones, because my intention is also to offer high visibility to great professionals from not so known countries.

Also, I wanted to create a men/female balanced presence to the event, and not because of some sort of politically correctness, but because I truly believe that some of the best marketers must be found between the “digital females”, as our own Sam Noble calls them.”

Selling the tickets

After the line up comes the marketing. You have to sell tickets, so people will have to know about the existence of the conference. A marketing mix approach is best here. Use all the channels you can find. Depending on the audience you are targeting, use those channels wisely:

“The SEO and Social Media public is targeted mainly via influencers marketing actions (the same speakers) and social media activities both on Twitter and Facebook.

Next to that, we are also organizing smaller events during these week. These are the ‘Roadshows’. They target a different kind of audience mostly composed by digital marketing directors and CMOs. With those for free smaller events we aim to present a sort of preview of what The Inbounder will be, hence nudging the public to attend it.

What we can learn from Gianluca on the “How”

1. Knowing people in the industry is important to get speakers
2. Start early
3. Learn how to say no
4. Determine the main topics of the event
5. Look for balance in the line up of your event
6. Use a variety of marketing channels
7. Market depending on your audience
8. Do things outside of the main event to create awareness

The secret of success

So what is the secret of success when organising an event? Gianluca is very clear:

“To strongly believe in your idea, and fight for it and defend it, while being able to accept the critics and implement corrections to it.”

Basically he says: “Go for it!”

But when asked for his secret ingredient, he is modest:

“Sincerely I don’t know… but I would say that my secret was/is the serendipity I was able to create along the years. All those things you do, as forcing yourself to know someone despite of your introversion, your helping attitude, you’re being available… all of this at the pays with dividends.”

And I think Gianluca is spot on: his secret to success hasn’t been the last year (and a half) setting up this event, it’s the years prior to that. They years in which he made a big effort to get to know people and help people. People who are now willing to help him.

About the Inbounder

Finally we asked Gianluca to describe the event in his own words:

What is the event about?

logo-inbounder“The Inbounder, as the team and I like to define it, is a conference about how to do marketing using the inbound channels.

In other words, it is thought of as an event where speakers (but attendees too) shares actionable insights about Search, Social and Content Marketing, as well as about CRO, Analytics and Digital Strategies.

Personally I would consider a success seeing people saying that they could not share the event as much as they desired, because they were too much occupied taking notes.”

What makes your event different from any other event?

“I think that The Inbounder has many distinctive peculiarities.

The most important one is that The Inbounder really is the only event where marketers from North/Central Europe and from the Mediterranean Europe can get to know each other and learn from each other.

Secondly, the format, which see all the speakers as keynotes.

Third, its multidisciplinary nature. I was very looking forward to create an event where professionals of different disciplines could have the opportunity to break the walls, which still are very strong between the different areas of web marketing.

Fourth, the agenda. I am personally curating it and how a speaker follow another is not casual, but reflect a very precise narrative idea.

Finally, the city (Valencia).

Europe is beautiful and I love to attend conferences in places like London, Dublin, Berlin et al… but what is better than a warm place on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea? And the venue, the Principe Felipe Museum of Science, in the City of Arts and Sciences complex by Calatrava. We choose it for the strong symbolism (web marketing as both Science and Art), apart that for the great services it provides.”

Are you tempted to go? Go to the event page and sign up now. We will be there!

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Bas van den Beld is an award winning Digital Marketing consultant, trainer and speaker. He is the founder of State of Digital and helps companies develop solid marketing strategies.