Sept. 12, 2013 10:30 pm
By Ken Thomas
It began as a simple assignment, find a local entrepreneurial event, attend and write a blog post about the gathering of entrepreneurs. A simple Google search returned several Jacksonville, FL meet-ups and I decided that the September 12 Digital Marketing Meet-Up would easily satisfy the assignment. With a click of the mouse on the link (www.jaxma.org) I found more information about the event. The organizers touted it as “the largest, most dynamic digital marketing event of the year!” With that buildup I knew I had found the perfect fit to complete the assignment so I followed another link (www.jamadigitalmeetup.eventbrite.com) to explore my options of covering the event for this blog. I knew it would be better if I could contact the organizers and explain that I was a graduate student working on an assignment, so I followed the contact JAMA link and sent off an email to the organizers inquiring about covering the meeting as a “student journalist.” Upon clicking the send button I received confirmation that my message had been sent to the organizers of the event. It seemed that I was on the path to success until there was no response to the email. On the day of the event I decided to just drop in and ask to speak to the organizers to share my excitement about covering the event for my assignment, so that’s what I did.
Everything was going great until I spoke with Christine Eagan, a board member of the American Marketing Association, Jacksonville Chapter (JAMA). That’s when the board member made a critical mistake and denied access to the event. She cited that I had not registered or paid the entry fee which was required for entrance. When pressed about allowing a student member of the press to cover the event, the president-elect of JAMA pleasantly denied a second request, this time cited maximum capacity, fire regulations and other members of the press who had made previous arrangements with the organization to cover the event. At that moment, I informed her again that I had tried to contact the group via email and never received a response. Furthermore, I had tried to locate a phone number on the website to contact someone but could not locate an office number on the site. Once again, she thanked me for my interest and promptly denied access a third time.
But a good journalist doesn’t let barriers like that stop them from getting a scoop, so I stood outside the event doors and covered the event from the outside the door frame looking in.
More than 150 people attended the social gathering designed to develop relationships between entrepreneurial business types. They came to network and hear Ellen Valentine, a product spokesperson for Silverpop (www.silverpop.com). According to its website, Silverpop is an on-line digital marketing automation company that specializes in integration and automation of their clients email, social and mobile applications. It’s too bad the organizers of this event denied the opportunity to speak to or hear what they said was a “sought-out” speaker and who was inducted into the #Nifty50 list of top 50 US Women in Technology had to say, but I guess the “marketing” gurus at JAMA understand public relations and media accessibility more than I do. Nevertheless, I spoke to some people who were allowed to enter beyond the folks about the event.
Nicole Crilley, Interline Brands Inc., has attended other JAMA events in the past and said she felt this one would be great because Valentine was scheduled to speak to the group.
“They’ve had really good speakers that give good advice on developing marketing strategies and I’m interested in what she has to say about digital marketing” Crilley said.
Several other people said they came because it was a great opportunity to network with other entrepreneurs and professionals. Jan Korb, a marketing and public relations specialist from Broadbased Communications agreed.
“I brought a friend to the event to meet and greet other people who could help our businesses grow” Korb said.
Helping entrepreneurs grow their business through networking at events like the Digital Marketing Meet-up was supposed to be an opportunity to learn how technology can enhance businesses’ through on-line marketing. Those people who attended may have enjoyed the event for that very reason but for others who were left on the outside the message was clear. JAMA caters to the exclusive membership and paid attendees. This philosophy seemed to contradict the organization at its core and banning a member of the “press,” albeit a graduate student on assignment was a cardinal sin in media relations.
The sign may have said welcome, but the welcome mat was pulled out from under my feet, which I felt did a great disservice to the organization and the event. Although JAMA was within their legal rights to deny access to a private event, it appeared to me they had lost sight of the very essence of digital marketing. Don’t overestimate the positive influence of digital and never underestimate the potential negative influences of it.