This autumn the Sheffield DM (Digital Marketing) Meetup, hosted and organised by Evoluted, will celebrate its third birthday. Since launching, the meetup has evolved and changed – particularly in response to the pandemic – whilst staying true to the principle of giving something back to the marketing community, celebrating talent, and supporting professional development. We caught up with Giorgio Cassella, Marketing Director at Evoluted, to find out where the idea for Sheffield DM came from, how COVID-19 forced them to rethink the format of their events, and what we can expect from the September meetup.
Why and when did you start the Sheffield DM meetup?
Officially, Sheffield DM started in November 2018 as a remedy to the lack of great digital marketing events in the wider Sheffield and South Yorkshire region.
In reality, the idea stemmed a good year before that after I tweeted about an inkling of an idea for a marketing meetup, following a Startup Weekend event I’d just hosted. Ash (Evoluted’s Managing Director) picked up my tweet and invited me for a beer to discuss how it might work.
Not a lot happened until, by chance, I took a role at Evoluted in September 2018 after which we began to forge our idea into something real. Three years later, here we are still going strong!
What were the key principles you built the events on, and have these changed?
Our key principles have always been around giving back to the marketing community, supporting personal development, and highlighting both new and experienced talent.
We’ve held steadfast to these over the three years that Sheffield DM has been running and we have no plans to change them.
In practice, this means making Sheffield DM free to attend and accessible, providing a safe welcoming space for marketers of all experience levels, and promoting diversity in marketing through our speakers.
What did you do to get the meetup off the ground? What was attendance like for those first few events?
Like most meetups, our first few events took a lot of hustling to make happen! The early days involved lots of tweeting, LinkedIn posts, outreach to ex-colleagues and friends in the local area with invitations and more. The whole team put in incredible legwork and resulted in over 50 people registering for the first event!
We secured a brilliant speaker for the first event (Molly Evans) and benefiting from her help and support to promote a brand new event made a huge difference.
Another benefit was having Evoluted bankroll the event as the primary sponsor, which allowed us to secure a great, centrally located venue at the Sheffield Tap and provide a free drink for all attendees on arrival, which I’m sure boosted numbers too.
With the buzz and backing of our first event, including a fledgling email list, we booked our second and third events for January and March 2019 resulting in 56 and 91 registrations.
With a playbook for promotion, a host of great speakers interested in headlining future events, and the Sheffield DM name becoming more recognised, things began to run a bit like clockwork – until March 2020 arrived…
How have you developed the Sheffield DM meetups throughout the pandemic?
Like most meetups, when March 2020 and the first lockdown hit we were unsure about how to respond. We actually had an event planned for the Thursday right before lockdown came into effect and rapidly tried to shift it to be hosted online but unfortunately fell short.
It quickly became clear that things weren’t going to be getting back to normal anytime soon, so we took the opportunity to experiment a little and explore the world of virtual events.
We started with an event in May 2020 where we directly translated our Thursday evening events into an online format. This secured a large number of registrations but resulted in very little attendance – people were still exhausted from the shift to working from home so sitting watching their screens for another two hours in the evening just didn’t appeal. However, we did observe a huge number returning to watch the recordings on YouTube during the following few working days, so back to the drawing board we went.
This time we went big. We decided we were going to hold Sheffield DM’s first full-day virtual conference. Over June, July and August 2020 the Evoluted team did some incredible work, securing 15 incredible marketing voices from all over the world to talk across four topical tracks: SEO, Paid Media, Digital PR, and Personal Branding, including two Q&A panels.
The event lasted from 9.30-15.30, secured over 350 pre-registrations, saw incredible engagement across social media and the recordings have been watched over 1200 times on YouTube – by all our measures, an incredible result.
Following the conference we took a hiatus as lockdowns began to ease and Zoom-fatigue really began to set in; until January 2021 when we relaunched with a new Lunch & Learn format delivering short 30 min sessions fortnightly on Thursday lunchtimes. We ran eight of these sessions before the third lockdown eased at the end of May and allowed us to start planning our big return.
How did you keep things interesting for event participants, and what do you think participants found most valuable during the lockdown periods?
We’ve learnt that the biggest pull for attendees is always going to be the topic, whether in-person or online. Providing interesting talk topics that excite and intrigue is essential, whether the speaker is a huge-name or a relative newbie.
Knowing this, we put a lot of effort into sourcing a diverse range of speakers from different backgrounds, companies, experience levels, and disciplines. We then grouped speakers together so each event had a rough theme running throughout as attendees will want to take part in an event that appeals to their unique position – someone deep in technical SEO is less likely to stay tuned to Sheffield DM if a technical talk is followed by one on social media creative.
Mixing talk types up also worked to keep our attendees engaged. A lot of our speakers deliver standard 20 min slide decks, but those which stood out the most and garnered the highest viewer counts are the ones who changed the format: tutorials, practical applications of techniques and philosophical discussions.
Finally, presenting the event in a format which was easy to attend provided huge value. With so much taking place online, at all different times and via different platforms we wanted to keep things easy: lunchtime talks, every two weeks, via YouTube. No downloading extra programs, no waiting to be let into a call, no microphones being left on – uncomplicated simplicity!
Your events are back in September. What can people expect?
We’re coming back with a bang on Thursday 23rd September, 17.00-20.00!
We don’t do things by halves, so our first event promises three incredible speakers and a live Q&A panel, hosted at our brand new venue at the Workstation Creative Lounge. It’s also going to be our first hybrid event, so alongside the in-person element we’ll be livestreaming the talks via YouTube and recordings will all be available afterwards.
Moving to the Workstation opens up a huge extra space for us to host Sheffield DM. In the short-term this means a safer return to in-person events and keeping COVID safe, whilst long-term giving us plenty of room to grow. Additionally, while we’ll still be serving both alcoholic and soft drinks via the Showroom bar, it’s a friendlier location than a pub for those who don’t drink alcohol.
We’ll continue to assess the situation as we move forwards, but there’s lots of exciting new ideas in the pipeline for future events, including our 3rd birthday in November.
What do you think of Sheffield’s meetup scene? Are you a fan of any other meetups?
Sheffield has an incredible meetup scene and the support each group provides to promote and uplift the others is unlike anything I’ve seen elsewhere. There’s a really diverse range of groups out there creating a network of micro-communities around shared professional interests.
I have to give a shout-out in particular to Startup Weekend Sheffield which I spent a few years organising and who are still doing great work encouraging budding entrepreneurs. Also to the Sheffield Digital Meta Meetup – creating a meetup for meetup organisers is an incredible idea and an awesome opportunity to build new relationships.
You welcome a great variety of speakers to share their expertise at your events, are you looking for speakers in any particular areas of digital marketing for future meetups?
On a personal level, I have a huge interest at the moment in community management and development, in advertising in the gaming and esports sector, and in emerging opportunities like Reddit ads or Twitch so I’d love to host speakers in these areas!
That being said though, we’re honestly up for anything, as long as it relates back to digital marketing.
We’ve had talks on everything from developing pitching skills, to personal branding, to the rivalry between traditional advertising and modern digital marketing; so if you’ve got an idea for a talk please get in touch.
How can people find out more, whether they want to attend or speak at an event?
All upcoming events are listed on Eventbrite (sheffield-dm.eventbrite.co.uk) and you can register your place for either the in-person or online events there.