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Designing a marketing conference that’s… fun?

Programming the second-annual Marketing Brew Summit


Business media,
but make it hip

Morning Brew is a media brand that delivers all the latest business news with a hearty dose of humor and self-deprecation. The company produces 10 newsletters, several podcasts, and a steady flow of video content, and in 2022 began offering its first in-person industry events.

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"I love business conferences!" said no one ever

Business conferences are notoriously dull, catering mainly to the need to see and be seen. But for Morning Brew—a brand defying the boring, self-serious tropes of business media—could things possibly be different? 


The events team was handed a nuanced challenge: Design a one-day industry shindig that’s engaging, educational, memorable, and fun—while still pleasing sponsors, aligning with editorial, booking big names, and selling tickets.



How might we deliver fresh perspective through a conventional medium?

The monotony and echo-chamber-y nature of the business conference circuit presented us with a unique opportunity: How might we leverage our stage to tell stories otherwise untold—a place for industry leaders to share parts of themselves and their professional experiences that they wouldn’t otherwise?


Could we take the next step and make the event lively and laid back rather than stuffy and self-serious?


Know the competition to beat the competition

We kicked off with an extensive competitive audit, tracking down every marketing conference we could find and tabulating information on timing, pricing, duration, theme, branding, sponsors, scheduling, topics, and speakers.


We then scoured the internet for dynamic, no-bullshit marketing industry leaders, with a strong eye towards diversity from both a demographic and professional standpoint.


A game of 3D chess

Assembling a compelling day of industry conversations is nothing short of 3D chess. We needed to triangulate a web of factors, tick a variety of boxes, and please various, often opposing stakeholders.


We wanted to book recognizable brands, but not the mega-brands whose executives were straightjacketed by their PR teams. We wanted compelling speakers, but not the same set of speakers you’d seen everywhere else. And we wanted to represent diverse perspectives and pathways, but in an industry that remains overwhelmingly white.


We reviewed audience surveys and spoke with the editorial team to understand what and who were top of mind. On the mainstage, we haggled to book bigger names who were up to something new—Bobbi Brown of Jones Road Beauty and Lo Bosworth of Love Wellness. We added breakout rooms to incorporate greater opportunities for engagement and to highlight charismatic individuals from lesser-known brands or lower-level titles. And we also added stretch breaks, led by professional fitness instructors, to provide reprieves from so much sitting.


A brand identity that
doesn't say "conference room"

Our effort to differentiate the content wasn’t going to matter much if the conference still had the same corporate, silver-blue branding characteristic of the standard conference circuit. We worked closely with our operations and design teams to ensure that the look and energy of the digital assets and physical space shared our goals, outlook, and brand identity. When a prospective attendee opened a targeted email, we wanted them to think “Hey, this actually looks kinda fun” and not “Did they announce the new season of Severance?”


The design team delivered a variety of options, all rich with color, shape, and energy. We moved forward with a brand identity full of pep and pop, whose components could be creatively applied in different variations across digital and physical touch points.



Priming the conversation, setting the tone

An essential step of our process was setting up prep calls for the speaker and moderator to align on topics—and make sure the speaker was actually excited about them. After all, boredom is infectious.


These prep calls also served as an opportunity for us, the programming leads, to set the tone: thoughtful, professional, and kind, but not taking ourselves too seriously. We made it clear that we wanted to see people’s unstudied selves, not their corporate personas. Profanity, snazzy lewks, social causes—we welcomed it all. Occasionally, we flagged speakers or interview pairings that showed a sore lack of chemistry and did a quick reshuffle.


"Will be back for the next one!"

We met the quantitative metrics for success: an over-50 NPS score, abundance of LinkedIn posts, and very happy sponsors. Less measurable? The energy in the room, the candor of the conversations, and the fact that so many speakers stuck around for the full day. 


And in representing a wider variety of backgrounds, identities, and career paths, we endowed attendees with a real sense of possibility.

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Don't be afraid to do things differently

Two of the questions at the heart of design are: (1) Why are we doing things this way?, and (2) Are there ways we could be doing them differently? In other words: Don’t default to the defaults.

In his presentation, Duolingo’s Head of Global Marketing, Manu Orssaud, showed this chart 👉. Ultimately, you need to try, learn, and retry. And that means not being afraid to be different. You never know what might happen.

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