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Slack: Blaze conference sets records

Spotlight on Chicago

Anyone who has lived in Chicago knows the truth: This is the best time of year to visit the city. Gary Slack offered a few tips to help the out-of-town get outside and explore.

Best place to break a sweat. BMA members will lead a morning excursion along the scenic lakefront path. Bike, run or walk along the paved route with the group—or take in Lake Michigan at your own speed. The group leaves at 5:30 a.m. on Thursday and Friday.

Best view of the skyline. Revelers on the Wednesday night networking cruise will have a view of the skyline before and after sunset. Fireworks will light the night sky as the boat returns to port. “We’ll have 75% of attendees there,” Slack said. “What a way to meet people.”

Best place to snap a photo. Millennium Park sits just blocks from the conference site. Take in the photogenic “Bean” sculpture and learn why Chicago is known as The City in a Garden. “It’s a photographer’s delight,” Slack said.

Gary Slack

Business marketers from about 330 companies have registered for the 2013 Global BMA Conference, setting a new record for the annual event. Gary Slack, chairman and chief experience officer of Chicago-based Slack and Co., has organized the conference since 2009. He spoke to BMA Buzz about the new event format, the Firestarters who will help kindle the Blaze and the likelihood that the Chicago fire department will be called to the scene.

BMA Buzz: You’ll be using a different format than you have in previous years. How has it changed?

Gary Slack: We introduced Ted-like presentations last year, and it went over so well that this year I’ve programmed in 20 talks in all. The other big difference is that I did away with break out sessions. Everything will happen in the big ballroom, and everybody will experience the same thing. I have always wanted to have a national BMA conference be the kind of conference where everybody is experiencing the same thing. It’s going to be a challenge.

We’ve added two pre-conference sessions, one on global b-to-b marketing around the world and then one on b-to-b social media. I do this to make sure people arrive early. We don’t want them to miss the opener. Please come for the opener and get a seat by 11:50.

BMA Buzz: You’ve been close-lipped about the opener. What should we expect?

Slack: I’ll give you a hint. People shouldn’t be surprised if the Chicago fire department is involved — in a fun way.

BMA Buzz: What is the overarching focus of the conference?

Slack: Marketing is changing rapidly, and that change is coming at us at blazing speed. Senior marketers are being stretched thin. They are being asked to collaborate with other functions in their companies. This is what Kathy Button Bell and Laura Ramos are going to talk about [in their Wednesday, May 29, session], based on research we’ve just completed with Forrester. CMOs and senior marketing leaders are asked to do an amazing number of new and different things, and they’re not getting a lot more budget to do it. They’re getting the job done, and the survey will address that. We really think that marketing is entering a new golden age. It is out of its silo. Marketers have a seat at the C-suite table. Marketing is collaborating more and is influencing other functions.

And I already have thought about what we are going to do next year. I’m contemplating making the entire conference about technology. There are all kinds of marketing conferences and many of them are vendor heavy. There just are not that many conferences—even though tech is top of everybody’s mind—where marketers can go and get an impartial view of technology. If we go this direction, I don’t want to have any vendors on any panels. In the case of marketing automation, I might have four senior marketers with experience with each of the top systems debate the pros and cons and get down to what marketers want to know. It would be the premiere b-to-b marketing technology conference. I’m usually not this far ahead, but I think this could be a valuable direction.

We’ve got a couple sessions on technology in this conference, but I could really see doing an entire conference deeply focused on tech. I think there is a broad interest. We’d see the conference grow even more. 

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