POINT/COUNTERPOINT: Pay-For-Play Conferences

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This post is part of a series of point/counterpoint arguments proposed by different members of the Pixels & Pills staff. Were strong believers that healthy arguments can yield the best solutions, and we hope that you enjoy our series. Feel free to add your own arguments in the comments section below!


by Sven Larsen (@zemoga)



We here at Zemoga love to build a relationship, a partnership, with our clients. But at the end of the day, sordid though it may sound, the fact is that we are a vendor. We are a company who is hired by other companies to provide goods and services – in our case, strategic advice on interactive digital experiences that help our clients engage with their target audiences. As such, what Im about to say is going to sound pretty counterintuitive. But Ill say it anyway.

The time has come to do away with pay-for-play speakers at social media conferences.

At most of the conferences that you attend, youll see at least a few of these: sessions that are given on a specific technology by someone whose company offers that very service. In some cases, the speakers educate and do a great job of communicating their expertise.

In other cases, though – well, it can be a hard sell, and an awkwardly delivered one at that. Given with the delicacy youd expect of a time-share salesman, these sessions leave you annoyed that you didnt read the fine print in the agenda more closely, and so frustrated that any lucid points which did come through were lost on you entirely. I know Im not the only one to have sat through an hour like this, and thats why, despite the fact that there are “good guy vendors presenting at conferences, I dont think its worth the risk anymore.

Sessions like these perpetuate a few different negative things at once. First, they keep skeptical people away from otherwise very good conferences. One experience like that which I described above, and someone is turned off from going to another social media conference.

Second, and related, they perpetuate pharmas insular mindset. The more that we keep just talking to each other, the less well stretch beyond what weve already done. And the more that we settle for hearing ONLY about small-scale case studies done with existing services, the more that were going to stay where we are. (Now, fair balance: It is absolutely useful to hear about whats going on around us, and what these small and practicable steps are. Dont misunderstand. The problem is when thats where we stop.)

And third, theres the risk that including these type of presentations limits the discussion leaders to those who can afford to sponsor the conferences. Obviously conferences need sponsors to run – but shouldnt there be more of a separation of church and state? The physicians that we work with go to conferences where the vendors are segregated in very defined areas. The presentations they attend are given by their peers, and any industry connection must be clearly specified. Why do we put up with sitting through sales pitches, when the people that we work with dont?

Am I being unrealistic? Am I missing the point? Or do you agree?

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3 Responses to POINT/COUNTERPOINT: Pay-For-Play Conferences

  1. James Ellis says:

    It’s a no-brainer. I don’t go to conferences for the food, the mid-level hotels, the coach flights, or the eight hours of banquet chairs. I go because I hope that something interesting will be said.

    That’s not going to happen if the conferences are stocked with companies who paid the most to fill the panels.

    A good conference is like a well-curated blog: they choose smart people to bring interesting ideas. I pay big money because the conference should be selecting smart ideas and good presenters for me. I won’t pay to see eight hours of commercials dressed up in conference garb.

    You want my money? I will part with it freely if you are doing everything you can to show me the smart ideas instead of the normal PR snowjob. I can get those online for free.

  2. Thanks for the comments, James. I’ll be interested to see what you have to say about tomorrow’s counterpoint.

    Keep reading!

  3. Jeff Greene says:

    Sven I have to agree with you – there are many qualified speakers who are not getting their voices heard. Healthcare clients ask for innovation yet they are getting mostly the same speakers and thinking at industry events. It would be nice if conferences offered more separation: Here are speakers we think will add value and drive innovative dialogue, and here are speakers from agencies/vendors who you might also want to check out.