Missy Ward on Creating an Affiliate Summit Empire

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images.jpgADOTAS EXCLUSIVE — As marketers and affiliates alike get prepared for Affiliate Summit East, the industry’s largest affiliate networking and educational event, Missy Ward took some time out of her busy schedule to reacquaint ADOTAS with the history of the event and where it’s future lies.

ADOTAS: Hi Missy! Affiliate Summit is heading East again, please give our readers some background of the origination of the conference.

MISSY WARD: Just five years ago, when people thought about affiliate marketing conferences, it was generally a negative connotation. At the time, the reigning conference was Affiliate Force, an annual cruise around the Caribbean.

Shawn Collins I donated our time to help coordinate those conferences, but we really thought there were ways it could be done better. To make a long story short, we offered our opinions and were dismissed. At that point, we decided to create an alternative shortly after the April 2003 edition of Affiliate Force.

The first Affiliate Summit took place in November 2003 in New York City. The goal was to differentiate from other conferences by focusing on content and networking. The first Affiliate Summit introduced Speed Networking, as well as an agenda heavy on the hot issues of the day in affiliate marketing.

The first Affiliate Summit had 200 attendees, and it grew by about 15% for the next show in June 2004. Though skeptical of the cruise ship as a conference venue, we gave it a shot with our approach.

The cruise conference was a sell-out, but the venue was not scalable, so we decided to move to a land-based alternative. After two somewhat basic shows with a single educational track, we 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, we ran another one in January 2006, where the crowd doubled again. As Affiliate Summit was growing, Shawn and I remained the faces of the show and always encouraged feedback. With each successive conference, we tweaked elements to improve them even more.

As we led up to the July 2006 show in Orlando, we incorporated various value-adds, such as a social network and free video of the educational sessions to conference attendees. The Affiliate Summit 2006 East conference also featured the biggest crowd and exhibit hall to date.

In January 2007, Affiliate Summit returned to Las Vegas and surpassed the 2,000 attendee mark, as well as another increase in the size of the exhibit hall. This conference also marked the first time Affiliate Summit held an industry awards show.

Then in July 2007, Affiliate Summit took place in Miami, and this edition of the conference was the largest U.S. east coast Affiliate Summit to date.

Next up was the eighth overall and first international Affiliate Summit in London in September 2007, followed by a return to Las Vegas in a big way — over 2,900 attendees.

We will head to Boston on August 10-12, 2008, followed by our first in a series of one day niche events in New York City on October 5, 2008.

ADOTAS: What need has Affiliate Summit filled, and what significance does it have in the affiliate marketing community?

WARD: While other conferences incorporate affiliate marketing into their overall agenda, Affiliate Summit is a niche-focused event that specifically caters to the affiliate marketing professional community. By offering targeted educational and networking opportunities developed in a user-generated manner, Affiliate Summit remains the leading conference of its kind and a must-attend for affiliate marketers.

The Affiliate Summit Pinnacle Awards remains the only impartial annual awards ceremony recognizing outstanding contribution to the affiliate marketing industry.

ADOTAS: How has the summit grown and evolved over the last five years? What do you attribute this to?

WARD: Again, I may have already answered part 1 of this above. As far as your second question, I attribute the growth to several factors, none of which are advertising dollars. Our growth has been organic, whereby our attendees become our greatest advertisers through word-of-mouth referrals, blogging and social networking. I believe that by delivering good, timely content and a positive atmosphere in which folks can learn from each other and do business, people will want to attend.

Secondly, as I’ve said many times before, this conference is for affiliate marketers, created by affiliate marketers. The tremendous amount of feedback that comes in from our attendees really helps shape our agenda. Without listening to comments and criticisms, the show would not have grown to where it is today.

ADOTAS: What has been the most surprising thing to come out of the experience of creating the Affiliate Summit? Most disappointing?

WARD: I don’t even know where to begin when it comes to surprising experiences, but I’ll give you one literal “surprise” – one that I doubt any other conference can claim Affiliate Summit has apparently now gotten into business of match-making. Two of our attendees (Jenn Thorp of TheUseful and Michael Friedes, CEO of Right Mail Marketing) met at Affiliate Summit 2007 West in Las Vegas. One year later, during Affiliate Summit 2008, the couple eloped and got married at the Stained Glass Wedding Chapel. Can you beat that for surprising?

Another great surprise is the fact that our attendees really know how to come together to support worthwhile causes. In the last three years, our attendees have helped us raise over $85,000 for Affiliate Summit supported charities such as Susan G. Komen for the Cure, Big Brothers Big Sisters, March of Dimes, Starlight Starbright Children’s Foundation and the League.

Most recently, 13 affiliate marketers from around the world – all attendees of Affiliate Summit – have committed to walking 60 miles with me in the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer 3-day, this September in Seattle. Our efforts can be followed here.

As far as negative experiences go – I honestly can’t think of one.

ADOTAS: What are the future aspirations for the summit? What cities would you like to add?

WARD: We are committed to continuing our annual East and West Coast Shows. We are also starting a series of 1-day niche-focused shows with the first being our Social Media Show in New York on October 5th. In addition, we’ve just launched our new print magazine, FeedFront and are going to be concentrating on its growth, as well.

There are a couple of goodies up our sleeves that I can’t talk about just yet, but we hope to be able to circulate some information about them in Q4.

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