Top conferences for marketing agencies in 2017

Written by: Karl Sakas

[Looking for 2022 events? See this article.]

Trying to decide what conferences to attend in 2017 as an agency owner? Here’s a lineup of conferences to consider, with a focus on events in the U.S.

I’ve included notes where I have experience as a speaker or attendee. Know an agency conference that should be on this list? Email me!

Conferences can be great… or a poor use of your time and money. Before you commit, be sure to read my article on how to get more out of your next conference.

Owner Summit

February 20-22, 2017 in San Diego

OK, so this event already happened—but you should plan to go in 2018. This conference is from the Bureau of Digital, and is tailored for digital agency owners.

The event incorporates “camp” sessions, one-on-ones, traditional talks, and ongoing support to empower attendees. The goal is to highlight that Owner Summit participants allies, not competitors. Topics include business development, leadership strategies, process, team structure and dynamics, marketing, success metrics, scope and estimates, culture, and industry news.

Several of my clients attended in 2016 and 2017; they reported great learning and networking.

High Five Conference

February 28 – March 2, 2017 in Raleigh

This happened already, too, but mark your calendar for next year—February 26-28, 2018, in Raleigh, NC.

The High Five conference is where marketing and creative meet. It brings together marketing and creative professionals for three days of lessons on teamwork, partnership, collaboration, and more. Attendees will expand their knowledge of marketing and creative strategies, gain actionable insights to apply to real-life work challenges, and collaborate in innovative ways that break down functional silos.

High Five isn’t agency specific, but plenty of agencies attend. Keynotes in 2017 included Ashleigh Axios, David Rendall, Joe Pulizzi, Marissa Coren, Shanteka Sigers, and Tina Roth Eisenberg.

I was Conference Director in 2016 and serve as 2016-2017 President of AMA Triangle, which organizes the annual event.

4A’s Transformation

April 2-5, 2017 in Los Angeles

This conference is hosted by the American Association of Advertising Professionals (4A’s). Business leaders and marketing experts will be discussing next-step storytelling, AI, VR, the news business, agency models, transparency, talent, winning strategies, and more. This year is the 100th anniversary of the 4A’s.

Peers Conference

April 26-28, 2017 in Seattle

This web conference is made for those who made the web and make it their business. It’s a people-focused tech event for web and software developers that gives attendees an opportunity to learn, grow, share, and make connections within the community.

I spoke at the 2016 PeersConf. It’s a friendly, welcoming group; I had not experienced that much hugging at a business conference before.

HOW Design Live

May 2-6, 2017 in Chicago

This annual gathering of global creative professionals features more than 80 educational sessions on radical thinking, how to improve your work, essential business and marketing skills, and previews of new tools and technologies.

Speakers include Amy Cuddy, Debbie Millman, Ed Roberts, Ilise Benun, Jeffrey Zeldman, Malcolm Gladwell, and Stefan Mumaw.

The event tends to focus on in-house content—but this year’s event features a Get Better Clients Bootcamp, organized by Ilise Benun of Marketing Mentor. I spoke on the HDL podcast in 2015, on how agencies can offer more strategy services to their clients.

PRSA Counselors Academy

May 7-9, 2017 in Seattle

This conference focuses on C-suite issues, case studies, and research that leads growth. This year’s event is designed by agency leaders for fellow agency leaders to wake up any agencies that have gone into a lull.

I spoke at the 2016 event in Puerto Rico. The conference draws primarily from PR agency owners, but attendees provide a range of services.

Mirren Live New York

May 9-10, 2017 in New York

This business conference features more than 50 keynote speakers, with a focus on driving agency growth. They’ll discuss topics like 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.

Can’t make it in-person? You can buy a ticket to the live broadcast.

Call to Action Conference

June 25-27, 2017 in Vancouver, Canada

CTAConf is hosted by Unbounce. It’s a single-track event—that is, 100% keynote speakers—which means a focus on high-quality speakers who’ll share great advice.

The event isn’t agency-specific, but digital agencies can expect a lot of relevant content. This year’s speakers include Joanna Wiebe, Mari Smith, Rand Fishkin, and Scott Stratten.


July 17-19, 2017 in Seattle

MozCon is hosted by Moz, and features three days of actionable sessions in SEO, brand development, CRO, the mobile landscape, analytics, customer experience, social and content marketing, and more.

MozCon isn’t agency-specific, but search-oriented agencies can expect a lot of relevant content. Speakers include Ian Lurie, Oli Gardner, Rand Fishkin, and Wil Reynolds.

AdAge Small Agency Awards

July 18-19, 2017 in Nashville

This event is designed for small- to mid-size agencies. It kicks off with an evening of networking and cocktails, and is followed by a day of conversation and talks that tackle challenges and opportunities in small agencies.

Want to apply for one of the awards? Apply here by April 27, 2017. AdAge defines a “small agency” as 150 or fewer employees.

Content Marketing World

September 5-8, 2017 in Cleveland

Learn and network from content marketing industry leaders. There are more than 120 sessions where brand leaders cover strategy, integration, measurement, and more innovative ideas in content marketing. CMW will have 4,000 attendees, 225 speakers, and more than 550 companies represented.

I emcee’d the Future Content Keynotes in 2016, and I’ll be speaking in the new Agency Track in 2017. I recommend cocktails at the Velvet Tango Room.


September 25-28, 2017 in Boston

HubSpot’s conference expects 19,000 guests this year. Keynotes this year include Adam Grant, Brit Marling, Issa Rae, and Mario Batali.

There will be 300+ sessions overall. Breakouts for marketing and sales professionals are in six tracks: Bold Talks; Executive Track; Growth with HubSpot; Hacks, Tips & Tricks; Ideas & Experiences; and Inbound Sales.

I spoke in the Agency/Partner track in 2015. In 2017, HubSpot has removed the separate Agency/Partner track, opting to include agency-oriented talks in other tracks.

Advertising Week New York

September 25-29, 2017 in New York

This week-long event goes over topics like storytelling through different mediums, creating connections in the industry, what brands want, influencer stories and lessons, and much more. The event brings together leaders in the marketing and entertainment industry to share their visions, passions, and best practices through seminars and workshops.

SoDA Academy

October 9-10, 2017 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. They maintain a high-quality experience by keeping the event invitation only, but you can request an invitation on their webpage. The SoDA Academy mission is to transform professional education for digital marketers through radical collaboration and hands-on, peer-to-peer learning.

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.

This will be the third year of the SoDA Academy; I spoke at the second event, in 2016 (on business strategy and on managing teams).

AIGA Design Conference

October 12-14, 2017 in Minneapolis

This 4-day conference has general sessions, a symposia, Design Fair, and evening networking events. It’s made for designers, and goes over practice management, emerging designers, diversity, urban design, branding, interaction/digital, and more.

Digital PM Summit

October 15-17, 2017 in Las Vegas

This is another event hosted by the Bureau of Digital, and entails two days of presentations, breakout sessions, and lightning talks exploring how to manage digital projects. There’s also an optional half-day workshop.

In addition to networking and building a system of support within the industry, education topics include project communications, process, empathy, dealing with conflict, project estimation and planning, career paths, and making agile work.

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.

Digiday Agency Summit

October 23-25, 2017 in Charleston, South Carolina

This twice-a-year summit gathers agency professionals to discuss how leading businesses are transforming to adapt to new technologies, new client needs and expectations, and new audiences.

Internet Summit

November 15-16, 2017 in Raleigh

This event is organized by TechMedia, and covers areas such as digital industry news, influencer advice, and includes great networking opportunities. The event is laser focused on digital media, and covers topics like content marketing, design/UX, search, social media, innovation, digital strategy, analytics, email marketing, and more.

I spoke on a panel at Internet Summit in 2015. My office is a few blocks away; if you’re planning to attend, let me know—would love to meet up!

Pick the Right Agency Conference

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.

Question: Which agency conferences are you planning to attend in 2017?

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