B2B Marketers Learn to Break Through Barriers at BMA Unleash 2011

When our dog Maggie,– a frisky chow/golden,– was younger, she loved to wriggle out of her collar and take off at incredible speeds. Her tail, torso and head were completely parallel; her ears back and her strides wide. She appeared to take flight as her fore and hind legs crossed beneath her. When we eventually caught her and put her leash back on, she had that panting dog smile that said, “That was good! Let’’s do it again!”

The 2011 Business Marketing Association International Conference (BMA Unleash), June 1-3 in Chicago, had a similar effect on the more than 600 corporate marketers and agencies in attendance.

During the planning stages of the event, 2009-11 BMA National Chairman Gary Slack of Slack & Co. surveyed dozens of high-level corporate marketers and agency management. He asked them, “What holds you back in your job, your company, your career and your profession?” The immediate responses centered around a common theme:  B2B marketers want to be as effective, productive and creative as they can, and need to find ways to break through the barriers that prevent them from doing their best work. The BMA Unleash theme evolved from this outreach.

Day One: Culture, Voice, Spirit and Networking Dominate

Martine Hunter & Trevor Bayne at 2011 BMA UnleashAfter Slack opened the conference and incoming BMA president Al Maag of Avnet welcomed us, every keynote, panel and breakout session focused on the “unleash” theme. The first day, which was sponsored by Marketo, the speakers shared inspiring advice on unleashing your culture, your purpose, your employees, your company voice, your content and your enterprise spirit.

Further enhancing the “unleash” theme was guest Trevor Bayne of Roush-Fenway Racing, who overcame a huge barrier himself recently. In February 2011, he became the youngest driver in history to win the Daytona 500. With the BMA logo-emblazoned NASCAR as our backdrop, attendees happily stood for photos with the young man, who was in town for the STP 300.

BMA Unleash 2011 Networking CruiseFueled by anticipation, we were primed for the next leg of the conference: a two-hour networking cruise down the Chicago River out to Lake Michigan, thanks to CNBC. With first-class amenities, food, spirits and a beautiful spring evening, the B2B marketers in attendance unleashed themselves socially. Representing more than 300 B2B companies, CEOs, CMOs, presidents, VPs, creatives, coordinators, managers, directors from around the globe mingled on the ship’s three decks. As the evening came to a close and BMA members disembarked to Navy Pier, each of us had that familiar smile that said, “That was good! Let’’s do it again.”

Day Two: Google, Godin, Groups and Dinner

With the support of sponsors Bloomberggyro  and SmartBrief, day two of BMA Unleash started early with Jim Lecinski of Google giving an energetic presentation, titled “Unleashing the Zero Moment of Truth.” The morning continued with an unusual break from business conference tradition. The Thursday panel participants,– seated in plump, cozy living-room chairs,– discussed unleashing your sense of life and workplace balance. Each panelist shared personal anecdotes about managing their careers and family life in an “always on” digital information age. The session was a warm departure from the usual all-business atmosphere of most conferences. At the morning breakout sessions, B2B marketers listened to expert panelists speak about unleashing your purpose, your agency, your creativity, your brand, your passions and your investment in social media.

We were joined by members of the BMA Chicago chapter to hear the lunch keynote by Seth Godin, sponsored by iBehavior. The prolific blogger, author and entrepreneur gave a colorful, quirky presentation called ”Unleash Your Power.” Using few words and zero bullet points, Godin compelled us to be relevant, take immediate action and experiment.

Martine and Phil Clement of Aon HewettAnother, more intimate networking opportunity awaited dozens of BMA Unleash attendees that evening. The 8 at 8 Marketing Leader Dinners, sponsored by Global Spec and held at various gourmet restaurants across Chicago, were hosted by CEOs, CMOs and other high level corporate marketers of B2B companies. Each table of eight offered a rare opportunity to hobnob for a couple of hours with a corporate executive and other marketing professionals. My table and I had the pleasure of being hosted by Phil Clement, global marketing officer at Aon Hewitt.

See you next year!

On Friday, after the information-packed panel on media partners, as well as keynotes on unleashing your mobile reach, unleashing your creativity and unleashing your data, the 2011 BMA National Conference came to a close.

Satiated, the B2B marketing attendees almost seemed reluctant to leave, soaking up every drop of the spirit and knowledge they had absorbed. MLT Creative President Billy Mitchell (who I encouraged to attend), penned a widely shared tweet: “Note to self: Do not, absolutely do not miss next year’s national BMA conference. Got that? #bmaunleash.” Messages like “Best B2B conference ever!” and “Outstanding business conference” spread across social media.

Armed with action items, encouragement, business cards and positive memories, we shook hands, hugged, and promised to keep in touch and see each other next year. We all knew we’d be more active in our local BMA chapters, as well. The 2011 BMA International Conference truly encouraged us to unleash our barriers and break through to be more creative, more strategic, more powerful, more passionate, more connected and, overall, more knowledgeable.

As we checked out of the hotel and headed back to our marketing jobs near and far, the looks on our faces had that same excited, unleashed look my dog Maggie had that seemed to say “That was good! Let’’s do it again!” I am certain most of us will.


Read other great recaps from other B2B marketers about BMA Unleash: