Just four years ago, when people thought about affiliate marketing conferences, it wasn’t generally considered to be a “must-see” event and tended to encompass a fringe part of the industry. At the time, the reigning conference was Affiliate Force, an annual cruise around the Caribbean.
Both Shawn Collins and Missy Ward helped to coordinate those conferences, but they thought there were ways it could be done better. They saw that there weren’t any big brands being represented and the whole event was basically a big party rather than an educational experience. Missy and Shawn saw an opportunity so they decided to create an alternative shortly after the April 2003 edition of Affiliate Force. Affiliate Summit is now the reigning conference in affiliate marketing.
The first Affiliate Summit took place in November 2003 in New York City. The two set out to differentiate themselves by focusing on content and networking. Being marketers themselves, Missy and Shawn have an ear to the ground and know what their participants want which also gives the exhibitors a focused audience. They introduced Speed Networking at this show, as well as an agenda heavy on the hot issues of the day in affiliate marketing. “This was really a good opportunity for marketers to connect and learn how to promote their products on the web for the first time,” said Shawn Collins.
The first Affiliate Summit had 200 attendees, and grew by about 15% for the next show in June 2004. Though the two were skeptical of the cruise ship as a conference venue, they gave it a shot with their approach of an interactive experience and exhibitor influenced content. Missy Ward reflects on why this new approach mattered, “Marketers were tired of the one to many approach of conferences. They were looking to network and become educated in a down to earth format where they could ask questions and get real answers.” This is one of the most important things that appears to set the Summit apart from other shows where advertisers pay for content.
The cruise conference was a sell-out, but the venue was not scalable, so they went on land after that one. After two somewhat basic shows with a single educational track, they evolved to have two tracks and an exhibit hall in June 2005 in Las Vegas. This time around, the attendance grew from 230 on the boat to a crowd of 550.
Following the momentum of the first Vegas show, another ran in January 2006, where the crowd doubled again. As Affiliate Summit was growing, Shawn and Missy remained the faces of the show and always encouraged feedback. “No other conference or venue allows as many publishers, vendors, and networks to meet as Affiliate Summit. Whether you run an affiliate network, manage your organization’s affiliate program, or simply have a large web presence or email database, this show is for you,” says Warren Corpus of online marketer Vayan. With each successive conference, they tweaked elements to improve them even more. At this year’s show, attendees can give feedback to Missy and Shawn directly through an instant messaging system that will go straight to their handsets.
As time came for their July 2006 show in Orlando, they incorporated various improvements, such as a social network and free video of the educational sessions to conference attendees. Another component to the success of the summit is networking abilities and the community environment that Shawn and Missy have thoughtfully set up. The Affiliate Summit 2006 East conference also featured the biggest crowd and exhibit hall to date. Well known retailers, web site publishers, and large networks are now making Affiliate Summit a required conference. Scott Richter, CEO of MediaBreakAway.com LLC and long time participant comments that, “Missy Ward and Shawn Collins have in several short years put together a powerhouse show that rivals there competition by miles. I’m excited about the next stages of Affiliate Summit going international.”
Shawn and Missy have been focused on the needs of affiliate marketers and add shows without fragmenting into smaller markets. Keeping two U.S. shows assures intimacy and a quality experience at every event. Affiliate marketing has the space to grow where search can only go so far, which is an indicator that more and more big brands will become available at the summit as the market continues to mature.
More recently, Affiliate Summit returned to Las Vegas in January 2007 and surpassed the 2,000 attendee mark. And now they’re headed to Miami, where they are tracking to have the largest east coast Affiliate Summit to date with a day one keynote from Ze Frank. Then there will be a day two keynote conversation, presided over by Emcee Lisa Riolo with Rob Kniaz, Product Manager at Google, and Mark Papia, VP of Performance Marketing at FOX Interactive Media.
The Affiliate Summit conference appears to be bringing together an important but very disparate part of the online media industry together. Much like happened with Ad-Tech, the growing collaboration is cementing the importance and lending credibility to affiliate marketing for all marketing channels. The addition of heavy hitters such as Google has really raised the question if affiliate marketing has finally gone prime-time and starting to enter the mainstream of online advertising. As Affiliate Summit goes global in September with a show in London it will become clear whether or not the global affiliate market can take hold in the same manner and Shawn and Missy will lead the way.