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Slack: Annual BMA conference ready to ‘blaze’ in Chicago

Gary Slack spearheads planning for the 2013 International BMA Conference, which will take place May 29-31 in Chicago. The chairman and chief experience officer of Slack and Co. already has organized the annual conference four times, and the event has tripled in size during his tenure. “We expect more than 1,000 people this year,” he says. “One of the reasons that our conference has grown to where it is today: About 90% of our speakers are corporate marketers. When you come to the BMA conference, you know that you’re going to be listening to peers.”

Slack shared his early plans with BMA Buzz.

BMA Buzz: What will be the theme?

Gary Slack: Each year we organize the annual global conference around a one-word theme. This year that word is blaze. It has several meanings. Marketers increasingly are blazing new trails, not just for their marketing departments, but also as they take on larger roles within their organizations. We are entering a Golden Age of marketing. CMOs all over the b-to-b world have a seat at the table with the CEO and the C-suite. Their responsibilities go well beyond marketing to include roles with HR, IT and innovation. Other meanings involve the speed of change, and [the notion that] the marketing profession is ablaze with new ideas and techniques to move organizations forward.

Buzz: You are still in the process of enlisting speakers and planning session content, but what does the early line-up look like?

Slack: We’ll have Phil Kotler, a prescient and cogent thinker who is considered the father of modern marketing. And we’ll have Neil Rackam who is considered the Phil Kotler of sales. Part of what we are going to do is explore the increasingly important interface between marketing and other functions [such as] sales, HR, IT, innovation and the CEO.

We’re going to do a panel on either the threat or the boon that is represented by AmazonSupply, which is the b-to-b and industrial side of Amazon. It is taking root and causing widespread fear—and potential opportunities—for traditional b-to-b marketers.

We’re going to have a session on marketing digital platforms around big pieces of capital equipment and buildings, how companies use sensors built into machines and buildings, locomotives, airplanes, along with big data and analytics to differentiate their products and deliver on the promise of a world where nothing breaks.

Last year we experimented with hour-long TED-like sessions, with four speakers each on an intriguing topic for 15-minutes. It was well received, and we’ll do more of those. We’ll still have hour-long keynotes and general assembly panel sessions, but I’m going to intersperse quite a few of those [four-speaker] sessions.

I also will have top executives from LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook. That’s just a very high level snapshot.

Buzz: What else should we expect to see?

Slack: We’re going to do pre-conference and post-conference educational sessions. Our big social event will be on the Odyssey cruise boat out on Lake Michigan. We’ll have another networking event, which we’re hoping to have at the AMC theaters and the upscale bowling alley Lucky Strike Lanes. This will be the fourth year that Bloomberg will be our title sponsor. 

We are going to livestream much of the conference globally. There will be a portal where people can access the live presentations as well as archived presentations, and we’ll get access to that archived content out there more quickly than we have been able to in the past. 

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