Digital marketing: Twin Cities leading the way

When I was a Star Tribune business reporter, I had several arguments with my editors about the level of coverage we gave to the Twin Cities marketing industry.

I thought the Strib should be doing more. Marketing is a high-knowledge, high-compensation business that fosters the growth of what theorist Richard Florida calls “the creative class.”

I maintained that the benefits to our entire region from those thousands of writers, digital strategists, designers and account supervisors were immense — and certainly worthy of the level of coverage we often gave to industries much smaller and less influential.

Sometimes I won that argument, and sometimes I lost. But I’m doing a little silent victory dance on the Strib’s recently bankrupt doorstep as MIMA — the Minnesota Interactive Marketing Association — prepares for its eighth annual Summit on Oct. 5.

The growth of MIMA testifies to the vibrancy of the Twin Cities as a leader on marketing’s digital frontier. Five years ago, MIMA had about 200 members. Two years ago, it had 700.

Today, MIMA has more than 1,200 members. The group is expecting more than 1,000 attendees at this year’s Summit, prompting them to move the event from the Depot in downtown Minneapolis to the larger Hilton.

Reflecting that growth, MIMA has brought in a couple of high-profile keynote speakers for the Summit: Jackie Huba and Seth Godin, both noted for their innovative thinking on the new relationship between marketers and consumers in the digital world. In addition, more than 20 local experts will also present.

“The demand for people to get together and connect around interactive in Minneapolis-St. Paul is just ridiculous,” said MIMA President Matt Wilson.

“We’re a ripe community for being a national leader in interactive,” Wilson said. “It’s not just the interactive agencies. We’ve also got the traditional ad agencies, and there’s an interactive legacy with the Fingerhuts and the Carlsons.

“We want to show all these Fortune 500s what a great community this is to get their work done. They don’t have to go to the coasts — there’s world-class work here.”

Working together
MIMA’s size has eclipsed that of some of the old-line marketing associations like Ad Fed and the American Marketing Association, but Wilson said the groups view themselves as partners.

“We’ve started to look for ways to work together,” he said. “We worked with the AMA to help them program some presentations on digital marketing. Ad Fed is helping promote the Summit and we’re helping promote their Show.

“We believe a rising tide lifts all boats.  At the end of the day, this is about how can we help the whole marketing communications business in Minnesota.”

In fact, the Summit has been so successful that it’s spawned a bastard child, the UnSummit. Created by marketing strategist Don Ball, the UnSummit promises “no pre-set agenda. No experts. Full participation. Full dissemination. And free admission. All the things that traditional conferences are not.”

Wilson was taken aback when the UnSummit popped up last year, but quickly realized that it signified healthy ferment in the local marketing business.

“At first I was kind of bummed out, and then I realized, this is really great,” he said. “We sent a round of drinks over to them and invited them to our happy hour for free.

“There’s a demand and it’s being filled, so how do you not embrace these things? I’ll mention it from the podium, and I’d love for people to go to that event.”

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