What agency conferences will you attend in 2021?

Written by: Karl Sakas

[Looking for 2022 events? See this article.]

Trying to decide which [virtual] agency conferences to attend in 2021? Here’s my 5th annual roundup. [Last updated: September 2021, including COVID-19 impacts]

My curated recommendations include 15+ events to consider—in chronological order—with a focus on U.S. and virtual events. I’ve noted events where I have experience as a speaker or attendee.

Know any agency conferences that should be on this list? Let me know! I’ll continue to update this throughout 2021. They’re listed in chronological order, based on confirmed (or likely) timing.

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.

Agency Growth Bootcamp: Work Less + Earn More

January 13 to February 17, 2021 (virtually)

My new agency growth bootcamp is designed to help you grow in 2021 and beyond. The theme is “Work Less, Earn More,” and the format is 100% virtual.

Over six weeks, agency owners and leaders get live training, group coaching, and assignments to help them jumpstart progress in 2021. The six modules are: Work Less, Earn More, Enlist Your Team, Choose Your Growth Strategy, Create Your 90-Day Plan, and Take Action.

Participation is by application only, focusing on owners of agencies with 5 to 100 team members. The event sold-out in December 2020; you’re welcome to apply for a future waitlist spot.

Agency New Business Virtual Conference

February 8-11, 2021 (virtually)

This new conference on agency new business is from RSW/US. The event incorporates four days of sessions, focused on business development.

The inaugural theme is: “A Look Under the Agency and Marketer Hood: Frontline Perspective from Marketers & Agencies to Help You Win in 2021!” This year’s topics included trends predictions from agency leaders and CMOs, benchmarks and best practices, and client-win case studies.

Owner Summit

February 24-26, 2021 (virtually)

This three-day 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. Last year’s Owner Summit includes a mix of moderated conversations and speakers, versus the 2019 focus on workshops and speakers.

Several of my clients have attended past Owner Summits—they reported good learning and networking—and I joined in 2019 to attend the pre-conference workshop day. The latest event ran February 6-7, 2020, in New Orleans.

Mirren Live New York

May 19-20 + 26, 2021

Mirren Live focuses 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.

There’s a live broadcast ticket, with several pricing options. In 2019, the in-person event featured 30+ sessions with 60+ speakers and 400+ agencies attending. In 2020, the event shifted online—with recordings available for all four days.

The next event will be May 19-20, 2021—with the full schedule available since March 2021. The 2021 theme is to “Build a Faster, Smarter, Healthier Agency.” There’s also a post-conference workshop, focused on building a marketing machine.

4A’s Management Practitioners’ Forum (MPF)

June 3, 2021 virtually

This members-only agency management conference is hosted by the American Association of Advertising Agencies (4A’s). It’s part of the 4A’s shift toward delivering agency management content via smaller events.

Topics in 2020 (virtually October 12-13) focused on “Guiding your business through the coronavirus crisis.”

In March 2021, 4A’s announced MPF would be a full-day virtual event on June 3, 2021. The focus will be:

“Was 2020 the great reset for our industry? What’s forever changed and what business practices will snap back to ‘normal’ when we no longer have Covid to contend with? This year at MPF, we’ll hear from agency leaders about how they not only pivoted during 2020, but how they are preparing to return–not to normal, but to better.”

As of early May 2021, the speaker lineup included agencies and brands.

AdAge Small Agency Conference & Awards

August 2-4, 2021 (virtually)

This annual AdAge event is designed for small- to mid-size agencies. Pre-pandemic, the schedule typically combined an evening of networking and cocktails, plus a day of conversation and talks that tackle challenges and opportunities in small agencies.

During the pandemic, this turned into a 3-day event online from August 3-5, 2020. I enjoyed attending the live event, which coincided with Hurricane Isaias.

In mid-February 2021, AdAge announced that they’re accepting 2021 applications through April 27, 2021. Applicants benefit from AdAge’s “entry concierge service.” As of early June 2021, the conference and awards show will be virtual from August 2-4, 2021.

Build a Better Agency Summit

August 10-11, 2021 in Chicago

This new Agency Management Institute event is from long-time agency owner and consultant Drew McLellan.

In late March 2020, BABA Summit had postponed from May to November 2020. In early September 2020, the event had shifted to August 10-11, 2021 in-person in Chicago.

As of late July 2021, the speaker lineup includes Jay Baer, Robin Boehler, Liz Nead, Joe Pulizzi, Paul Roetzer, Robert Rose, Drew McLellan, and Eric Vardon.

Use code “SAKAS” to save $300 when you register for the conference. The event notes: “Everyone attending the summit will either present a negative covid test or proof of vaccination.” Looking ahead, the next event is scheduled for May 24-25, 2022.

Traffic & Conversion Summit (T&C)

September 13-15, 2021 in San Diego + virtually

Now in its 12th year, the 2021 event is moving to the San Diego Convention Center, after becoming the virtual T&C360i for December 15-17, 2020—and it’ll include a 2021 virtual option.

In 2020, the conference included an “Agencies Only” track with agency-specific content. I spoke in the “Agencies Only” track in December 2020, on how to fix “profit leaks” at your agency, via Clarion Events.

In early June 2021, T&C noted a virtual option—and confirmed the “Agencies Only” track would return. As of late July 2021, the speaker lineup was TBD.

PRSA Counselors Academy

September 19-21, 2021 in Nashville, TN

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.

After PRSA announced they were cancelling the Spring 2020 conference due to COVID-19, they announced a virtual conference on May 5, 2020. The 2020 theme shifted from “2020 Vision: Leading the Agency of the Future” to “Leading the Agency of the Future Post-Pandemic.”

In February 2021, the event was scheduled for September 19-21 (in-person) in Nashville, TN. There’s be a free virtual conference “prelude” on May 18 (streamed from Nashville); the fall event will include a hybrid virtual and in-person option. As of April 2021, PRSA had announced the speaker lineup.

Operations Summit

September 23-24, 2021 (virtually)

This new two-day conference from the Bureau of Digital is tailored to operations leaders at digital agencies.

As of late July 2021, the speaker lineup included agency leaders and industry experts. Agenda topics include studio operations, delivery, outbound sales, revenue forecasting, team health, and ops tools. Register here.

Content Marketing World (CMW)

September 28 – October 1, 2021 in Cleveland, OH (and virtually)

Head to the Content Marketing World Conference & Expo (CMW) to learn from and network with content marketing industry leaders. The 2020 event shifted virtually over October 13-16, including the Agency Strategies track.

In December 2020, CMW confirmed 2021 dates, in Cleveland, OH. You can also access on-demand recordings from 2020. The 2021 theme is “Connections.”

Digital Mastermind Group: Fall 2021 Summit

October 4-6, 2021 in Las Vegas

Hosted by the Digital Mastermind Group (DMG), this three-day agency conference features a mix of expert speakers, in-depth roundtable discussions among agency owners, BarCamp sessions with quick tips, and networking. Topics at the prior event in 2019 included innovation, M&A, and social media for business development.

In March 2021, DMG booked me to keynote the October 2021 event, sharing my advice to help agency owners “Work Less, Earn More.” Want to join me in Vegas? Register here.


October 12-14, 2021 virtually

After the 2020 event shifted online—and drew 70,000 registrants—the 2021 event will be online. Past keynotes have included Adam Grant, Beth Comstock, Brené Brown, Ed Catmull, Michelle Obama, and Shonda Rimes.

Starting in September 2020, you can buy 2021 digital tickets. As of early February 2021, timing on in-person 2021 tickets was TBD; tickets will be 100% refundable until March 20, 2021, with some partial refunds after that.

In February 2021, HubSpot announced the event was moving to October 2021. Speaking applications opened in late February 2021, through late March 2021. This included dropping the “Elevate & Empower” track, to focus instead on Marketing, Sales, Customer Service, and HubSpot Academy.

I spoke at INBOUND in 2015, 2017, 2018, and 2020—and will speak again in 2021. HubSpot notes there will be 100+ curated speakers in 2021. I’m doing an “Ask Me Anything” Q&A session about how to keep your best clients happy.

Advertising Week

October 18-21, 2021 via hybrid format

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.

The New York events are part of an international network that reaches 98,000 people. The latest event was September 23-26, 2019, in New York—with a controversial close.

After cancelling the 2020 event, Advertising Week announced it would return in 2021.

As of late December 2020, Advertising Week had announced signature events for 2021—and the website had shifted to a continuous events model. In February 2021, Advertising Week announced the AWEurope would run May 10-13, 2021.

As of June 2021, AWNewYork will be October 18-21, via a hybrid format. As of late July 2021, the featured speaker lineup was now online.

Digital PM Summit

October 25-27, 2021 (virtually)

This long-running digital PM conference is hosted by the Bureau of Digital. 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 event moved online for October 19-21, 2020: “[F]or the first time ever, you’ll be able to see every single talk! That’s right, we’ve added another day and removed the multi-track sessions.”

The Bureau of Digital announced 2021 dates in December 2020, in a virtual/online format. As of late August 2021, the speaker lineup included agency and in-house leaders.

Mirren Executive Leadership Summit

November 3-4, 2021 (virtually)

This annual event targets agency CEOs and their top lieutenants, capped at 150 attendees in 2020 (up from 135 in 2018). The sold-out 2020 event topics included: profit margins, breakthrough innovation, engaged remote workforce, operational strategy, revenue growth, and account profitability.

For 2020, Mirren rebranded the event from Mirren CEO Summit to Mirren Executive Leadership Summit—although the event has long been open to both CEOs and other top leaders—and moved it online. In December 2020, Mirren noted that November 2021 registration would open in July 2021. Registration is now open.

Inactive Events for 2021

As of late August 2021, these previously-operating events were inactive for 2021:

  1. AgencyCon (previously in September 2019)
  2. ClientCon (previously in September/October 2020)
  3. Content Jam (cancelled for September 2020; in late August 2021, listed as going virtual in 2021)
  4. HeyOrca! Agency Conference (previously in October 2020)
  5. SMX: Search Marketing Expo (Agency Operations & Management, previously in November 2019)
  6. The SoDA Academy (previously in 2018)

If that changes, I’ll post updated information here.

Pick the Right Agency Conferences

Conferences can be great, but they can also be a time-suck—even if they’re fully or mostly online. 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 2021?

Note: This post was originally published November 4, 2020. Since then, we’re updating it regularly with the latest event info, including COVID-19 pandemic and recession impacts (currently: as of September 1, 2021).

Book cover: Work Less, Earn More (by Karl Sakas)

Are you feeling overworked and underpaid?

As an agency owner, it doesn’t have to be that way.

The solution? Read my book: Work Less, Earn More: How To Escape the Daily Grind of Agency Ownership.

You’ll get my step-by-step process to reclaim your work-life balance and get paid what you’re worth. And you’ll get access to an in-depth companion workbook, to cement your progress.