I recently attended the TFM&A show at Earl’s Court. (It stands for “Technology for Marketing and Advertising”, in case you’re wondering.)

I thoroughly enjoyed it; I caught up with some friends (both real life and Twittermates) ex-colleagues and clients and came away with sufficient ‘nuggets’ to justify the time invested. I only have one complaint and it’s a biggie…

As in previous years, the organisers chose to make admission both to the show and to the seminars completely free.

The predictable result was queues all round Earl’s Court 2 for the seminars and keynotes, even ½ an hour before they started. The keynotes were excellent (Danny Meadows-Klue, Kevin Eyres from LinkedIn and Rory Sutherland from Ogilvy were all predictably informative and inspirational) but the crowd control issues were alarming. The staff on the seminar doors were loudly advising delegates to “send an email of complaint” as they turned them away with no more than a piece of paper bearing a url to access the PowerPoint of the presentation they were not able to see in the flesh. I almost felt guilty waving my VIP badge and slipping into the “Fastpass” queue. Almost.

I suppose that’s what you get for putting on a free (to bona fide trade visitors) event about Digital Marketing in Central London in 2009 featuring high-quality speakers. Maybe the many exhibitors appreciated the traffic that the free seminars attracted to the event; unfortunately most punters left one seminar they had fought to get into and apparently felt obliged to go straight into a queue for the keynote, 1 hour later, for fear of not getting in; i.e. they had no chance to visit the stands! There were some interesting variations on the overall theme of overcrowding: I had no trouble getting into the CRM, Mobile and Web usability sessions (even after they’d started). As for anything whose title included “Social Media” or “Analytics”, forget it. Geeky looking Digitalistas were fighting like Hell Knights from Doom 3 in their efforts to barge their way in. Delegates were squatting on the floor in the aisles to listen to Rory Sutherland, much to his amusement.

I found myself thinking there had to be a better way.

Admittedly I’m a digital marketer, not an event organiser. It’s certainly good to see the digital industry in such rude health and of course the web is all about inclusivity and open source and all that but I actually think many delegates would have been prepared to shell out a few quid just to get a seat and to be sure of not having a wasted journey. And no, a virtual event is simply not as rich as a real life experience. (There – I’ve said it.)

Or am I alone in thinking the paid-for model might work better?

Meanwhile I’m off down the Gym to ‘bulk up’ for the next industry event; it seems that digital has never been so physical…

Mike Berry