Trying to decide which agency conferences are worth it to attend 2020? Here’s my annual roundup!
My curated recommendations include 25+ in-person events to consider—in chronological order—with a focus on the U.S. I’ve noted events where I have experience as a speaker or attendee. [Last updated: February 2020]
Know any agency conferences that should be on this list? Let me know! I’ll continue to update this throughout 2020. They’re listed in chronological order.
Want to pitch events as a speaker? Check out my book on speaking for agency lead-gen. But plan ahead—events typically recruit speakers several months to a year in advance.
January 9-10, 2020 in Nashville
This two-day workshop focuses on helping your agency break out of the feast-or-famine cycle. You’ll define a unique positioning and then craft a sustainable lead-gen plan for your agency.
New for 2020, there’s a “module on how to craft your service offerings—especially the ones offered at the outset of new client relationships. We’ll work through how to package these.” See the PDF brochure, or register here.
David Baker’s events aren’t cheap, but they’re high-value. I joined the 2018 positioning event as a guest expert.
February 6-7, 2020 in New Orleans
This conference from the Bureau of Digital is tailored to digital agency owners. The event incorporates moderated discussions, traditional talks, and ongoing support to empower attendees. This year’s Owner Summit includes a mix of moderated conversations and speakers, versus last year’s focus on workshops and speakers.
Several of my clients have attended past Owner Summits—they reported good learning and networking—and I joined last year to attend the pre-conference workshop day. You can register here for 2020.
February 11-12, 2020 in Miami
Want to charge more? You should be following agency bizdev expert Blair Enns of Win Without Pitching (WWP).
His two-day workshop (offered just a few times a year) focuses on changing your sales process (and your mindset) to go from low-priced vendor to high-priced partner. The event is limited to 30-40 attendees.
The workshop’s not cheap, but you’ll likely see a strong positive ROI from the trip. As I shared about his Pricing Creativity book: “Blair’s advice on value-based pricing will make your agency six or seven figures if you dare to apply it.”
March 29 to April 2, 2020 in Las Vegas
Although Adobe’s conference is not agency-specific, follow the money—large 2019 sponsors included the consultancies that many agencies worry about: Accenture Interactive, Deloitte Digital, IBM iX, and TATA. Not to be left out, holding companies like Dentsu, Publicis, and WPP were 2019 sponsors, too.
Last year’s event promised 300+ breakout sessions and labs. In 2019, the nine tracks included: Advertising; Analytics & Data Management; Content & Experience Management; Design-led Customer Experiences; Email & Omnichannel Marketing; Experience-driven Commerce; Marketing Innovations; Personalization; and Platform, Machine Learning & Ecosystem.
After Adobe’s 2018 $4.75 billion acquisition of Marketo, the “Marketo Marketing Nation” standalone branding appears to have shifted to become merely the “B2B Marketing Automation with Marketo” track in 2020.
March 30-31, 2020 in Chicago
Topics in 2019 included agency business models, culture and talent retention, and pricing models. The 2020 event will be in Chicago at the Westin Chicago River North on March 30-31, 2020.
March 30 to April 1, 2020 in Pittsburgh, PA
The 3-day design conference includes workshops, roundtables, symposia, and evening socials. Sessions include practice management, emerging designers, diversity, urban design, branding, interaction, and digital.
After an 18-month gap between the 2017 and 2019 events, AIGA appears to back to an annual cadence.
March 31 to April 2, 2020 in San Diego
Now in its 11th year, this year’s event expects 10,000+ attendees. T&C 2020 is moving to the San Diego Convention Center, after founder DigitalMarketer sold the conference to Clarion Events last year.
The conference includes an “Agencies Only” track with agency-specific content, to complement DigitalMarketer’s Certified Partner program.
I’m speaking in the “Agencies Only” track, on how to fix “profit leaks” at your agency. (If your net margins are less than 20%, you have profit leaks.)
Planning to go to T&C 2020? Save $200 with code KarlSakas200 when you register.
April 5-7, 2020 in Hartford, CT
Organized by agency IMPACT, this multi-day conference has evolved from IMPACT Live, which itself started as Brewing Marketing & Sales Success (BMSS).
In addition to content in general sessions, DSMW has role- and industry-specific breakouts (including an agency breakout). Keynotes in 2020 include Ann Handley, Marcus Sheridan, and Ron Tite. I spoke at IMPACT’s inaugural BMSS event in 2016.
April 20-24, 2020 in Chicago
Designed for both new and returning WWP students, the week-long event covers five modules: Positioning & Expertise Building, Master the Qualifying Conversation, Mastering the Value Conversation, One-Page Proposals & Pricing, and Closing & Negotiation.
The week isn’t cheap—but given the value he delivers, I’m surprised Blair isn’t charging more.
April 24, 2020 in Salt Lake City
The one-day event is targeted to “every agency professional who deals with the question ‘How much will this cost?’ or who has some form of responsibility for determining pricing.”
Modules include the Problem, the Paradigm, the Principles, and the Practice. As you might expect from an industry expert on pricing, the workshop isn’t cheap… but it’s high-value. I’ve signed up to attend, at the Early Bird Rate.
May 3-5, 2020 in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
This annual conference by the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) focuses on C-suite issues, case studies, and research that leads growth. The conference draws primarily from PR agency owners, but attendees provide a range of services.
I spoke at the 2016 event in Puerto Rico. This year’s theme is “2020 Vision: Leading the Agency of the Future.”
May 4-7, 2020 in Chicago
This annual gathering of nearly 3,000 global creative professionals features ~100 educational sessions on topics like radical thinking, how to improve your work, essential business and marketing skills, and previews of new tools and technologies.
This year’s 30th event includes the third HOW Marketing Live, on the intersection of marketing and creative. It’s hosted by the American Marketing Association (AMA). Past speakers include Amy Cuddy, Debbie Millman, Ilise Benun, Jeffrey Zeldman, Malcolm Gladwell, and Stefan Mumaw.
The event tends to focus on in-house content, but some applies to agencies, too. I spoke on the HDL podcast in 2015, on how agencies can offer more strategy services to their clients.
May 13-15, 2020 in Alaska
Rather than “Fear of Missing Out,” the FOMO Retreat conference is about the “Future of Marketing Opportunity.” There are four tracks: Agency Models, AI & Machine Learning, VR & AR, and Analytics & Attribution.
Although FOMO Retreat is a first-time event, lead organizer Ross Johnston has run a number of events before—and he draws from his experience as an agency owner.
I’m co-organizing the conference, serving as track lead for Agency Models. I’m curating sessions to cover hot agency topics—include rapid growth, how to find time to take an annual sabbatical, and how to hit your 2025 growth goals.
We’re meeting at the Alyeska Resort, less than an hour for Anchorage. Tickets include hotel and meals during the conference; there’s also an optional Alaska adventure day.
Tickets for the 3-day inclusive event aren’t cheap—but you can save $750 with code Sakas when you register online.
May 18-20, 2020 in Chicago
June 2-3, 2020 in New York
With a focus on agency growth, topics include aligning agency and client incentives, the latest tools to run your agency, how to turn your website into an active lead-gen tool, and agency pitch demonstrations.
June 8-9, 2020 in New York
The SoDA Academy brings together leaders at top digital agencies, entrepreneurs, education experts, and client-side marketers in a two-day learning conference. Given its origin as the “Society of Digital Agencies,” SoDA has strong digital roots.
The event is open to non-members, but SoDA requires an application to the conference. I spoke in 2016 at the second Academy (on agency business strategy and on team management). The latest event was April 9-10, 2018 in Long Island City, NY.
July 21-22, 2020 in Portland, OR
This annual AdAge event is designed for small- to mid-size agencies. The schedule typically combines an evening of networking and cocktails, plus a day of conversation and talks that tackle challenges and opportunities in small agencies.
Want a shot at one of the awards? From past years, entries will likely be open from February to May 2020. AdAge defines a “small agency” as 150 or fewer employees.
Tickets go on sale in March 2020. The 2019 event was July 30-31, 2019, in New Orleans.
August 18-21, 2020 in Boston
The 2020 event shifts a couple weeks earlier, to mid-August. In 2019, HubSpot expected 24,000+ guests and 250+ speakers. Past keynotes have included Adam Grant, Beth Comstock, Brené Brown, Ed Catmull, Michelle Obama, and Shonda Rimes.
The latest event was September 3-6, 2019, in Boston. I spoke at INBOUND in 2015, 2017, and 2018.
September 16-17, 2020 in Chicago
This annual two-day event by Andy Crestodina of Orbit Media features national-level speakers (e.g., Ann Handley, Gini Dietrich, Joanna Wiebe, Mark Schaefer, Wil Reynolds) while providing the intimacy of a regional conference (~500 attendees).
Compared to conferences with thousands of guests, think of it as “big names in a smaller setting.” This year is a month earlier than the latest event, which ran October 28-29, 2019.
New York (2020 dates TBA)
This new event is from training company DigitalMarketer, creator of the long-running Traffic & Conversion conference. In 2019, they had 30+ sessions from 25 speakers, while expecting 1,200+ agencies to attend.
Tracks in 2019 included: Fill Your Prospect Pipeline, Close & Convert More High-Value Clients, Grow Your Retainers & Recurring Revenue, and Systemize & Scale Your Agency. I attended the first event, which ran September 17-19, 2019, in New York.
Fall 2020 in Breckenridge, CO
This now-annual event is a spinoff from the long-running SearchCon conference in the Denver area. Content is targeted to owners of digital agencies—topics like finances, leadership, automation, lead-gen, and more.
I keynoted both the first event in 2018 and the second event in 2019. I like that AgencyCon’s size provides great networking. The latest event was September 23-24, 2019, in Breckenridge, Colorado.
October 5-8, 2020 in New York
This week-long event features seminars and workshops on topics like storytelling through different mediums, creating connections in the industry, what brands want, and influencer stories and lessons.
October 13-16, 2020 in Cleveland
After happening during the week of Labor Day for several years, the 2020 event moves a month later. Head to the Content Marketing World Conference & Expo (CMW) to learn from and network with content marketing industry leaders.
The 2019 event included more than 120 breakouts and workshops on strategy, integration, measurement, and innovation in content marketing. In 2018, CMW expected 3,700+ attendees, 200+ speakers, and 550+ companies.
I emcee’d the Future Content Keynotes in 2016 and spoke about agencies in 2018. (I unfortunately got appendicitis before my 2017 talk in the Agency Track.) The latest event was September 3-6, 2019.
October 18-20, 2020 in Orlando
This long-running digital PM conference is hosted by the Bureau of Digital. In 2019, the 7th annual event has two days of presentations, breakout sessions, and lightning talks exploring how to manage digital projects. There’s also an optional full day of pre-conference workshops—plus monthly pre-conference conference calls to help attendees connect beforehand.
If you have PMs, they should go there… and ideally have already pitched you on going. (It’s a sign they’re not a “reluctant PM.”) I spoke at DPM Summit in 2014. The latest event ran October 20-22, 2019, in Orlando.
Denver (2020 dates TBA)
The conference includes three days of content, including keynotes, breakouts, and workshops—all in the center of downtown Denver. The latest event ran October 24-26, 2019, in Denver; I did a keynote in 2019.
Attendees skew toward smaller agencies (under 10 people), but the almost all of the 2019 content applied to independent agencies of any size. I also liked seeing how much attendees cared about each other; that’s unique.
Chicago (2020 dates TBA)
This annual event targets agency CEOs and their top lieutenants, capped at 135 attendees in 2018.
The 2019 event features six areas around agency future-proofing: Future Growth Assessment, Capabilities Innovation, Talent Innovation, Fee Innovation, Organic Growth + New Business Innovation, and Resourcing + Growth Plan. The latest event ran November 6-7, 2019, in Chicago.
November 11-12, 2020 in New York
“New York City is the advertising agency capital of the world. That’s why SMX East features a brand new, full-day track dedicated exclusively to agency operations and management — in addition to our hallmark SEO and SEM content. In-depth sessions will deliver executive-level education and peer-to-peer conversation for agency principals, executives, and senior leaders.”
The first year’s topics include “Profitable Pricing Strategies For Agencies,” “Managing Clients, Managing Yourself,” and “Handling Client Transitions.” I spoke in the inaugural Agency track—”Getting Your Agency Services Mix Right,” moderated by Editor-in-Chief Ginny Marvin.
November 17-19, 2020 in Raleigh, NC
This annual event focuses on digital marketing, including content marketing, design/UX, search, social media, innovation, strategy, analytics, and email marketing. TechMedia runs 20 conferences annually, including the Digital Summit series in other cities. I spoke on a panel at Internet Summit in 2015.
My office is a few blocks away from the Raleigh Convention Center; if you’re planning to attend ISUM20, let me know—would love to meet up! The latest event ran November 13-14, 2019, in Raleigh, NC.
Pick the Right Agency Conferences
Conferences can be great, but they can also be a time-suck. Read my article on how to get more out of your next conference, including things you need to do before, during, and after the event. And if you’re thinking of organizing your own lead-gen event, see my 47 tips.
QUESTION: Which agency conferences are you planning to attend in 2020?
Note: This post was originally published October 2, 2019. We’ve updated it since then with the latest event info.
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