Our updated summary of the events we value the most could give you a few pointers and help you decide which conferences you’ll attend this year.
In our list you’ll find some obvious big hitters in the areas of entertainment, education and technology, but also a few that you might not have come across before.
BETT is Britain’s biggest learning technology trade show, and the first event in our calendar. Although it’s primarily known for exhibiting, BETT has plenty of seminars and fringe events. Held at London’s mighty Excel, it’s a large scale affair full of energy and flair. If you’re into education and technology, BETT is a great place to showcase your products and see what others are up to. Although if you’re exhibiting the scale of the event means that unless you’re investing seriously you’ll easily become lost in the noise. Those there to network need to do their research and make appointments well before the event, there’s not a lot of formal help with that.
Good for: exhibiting, checking out the competition. There’s limited networking and some seminars.
The Story is an innovative and intimate one day conference held in London that’s all about story telling. You’re unlikely to strike any business deals at The Story, but you will get insight into how storytelling and narrative is being used across every and any medium. Having said that, there’s always plenty there for digital and traditional media people to get stuck into, and what isn’t directly relevant to you will still inspire. The Story pulls in exceptionally high quality speakers and attendees. Expect to be entertained, surprised and inspired.
Good for: inspiration and enlightenment. One to broaden your mind. Mix and mingle to meet high profile attendees and speakers.
Game Developer’s Conference
Every year San Francisco plays host to the mother of all video games conferences. Epic and sprawling, GDC is run over so many tracks that there’s too much for any individual to soak up. GDC provides high quality seminars for everyone involved in games, from students to developers, business execs to entrepreneurs. Historically GDC is where the big deals are done. Most of that happens on the periphery of the conference, so if that’s your bag you’ll need to put work in to plan your networking and looking into the many events that happen around GDC. As with all big conferences, you can get lost in the noise, so if you’re new to GDC, you could consider one of the networking services to get you going. But be warned they can be expensive and you have to really work them to get a return. Funded group trips to GDC from the UK have been available in the past, UKIE is a good place to start your search. GDC’s party scene is as legendary as the conference itself, and that’s where most of the networking is done. In our experience the obvious parties are usually the less fruitful, so work your contacts hard to get the right invites.
Good for: seminars, networking and striking deals.
SXSW Interactive has become the event to attend for inspiration and innovation in interactive media. Held in Austin, Texas, SXSW Interactive is where many of the apps and interactive products we use every day have been launched. A mix of formal track seminars and workshops is balanced by a growing business and networking strand, so it’s now an all-rounder. Although well run, the conference sometimes feels chaotic and scattered (you’ll not struggle to find an unconference here) as do the parties and networking. If you’re investing in a trip to SXSW you’ll need to do your homework well before you arrive and get on the right invite lists. Traditionally SXSW Interactive runs (perhaps staggers) straight into the music festival, so hang around a couple of days after and you’ll see the streets of Austin flooded with achingly cool music geeks as the equally achingly cool interactive geeks slowly disperse.
Good for: seminars, inspiration, networking and finding out what’s next.
Fast Growth Forum
A small but growing London based event for companies that are focused on growth. This conference is pitched at company founders and is particularly good for anyone involved in a startup. The speakers are experienced and high quality, and in the audience you’ll find a good balance of entrepreneurs, investors and service providers.
Good for: inspiration, advice and networking.
A massive event spanning London’s East End, Digital Shoreditch brings together the digital creative and tech industries through multi-venue seminar and networking events.
Good for: inspiration, networking and keeping an eye on your competition!
Children’s Media Conference
The Children’s Media Conference is held in Sheffield in the UK. It’s medium sized but has the benefit of being relatively well contained in a university campus. A few minutes walk from the train station, it’s really easy to get to and is very well run. The conference is relevant to anyone interested in mainstream children’s media, from TV to games and education. The speakers are usually excellent and there is a good balance of sectors represented. Although relatively small, the conference also pulls in a high quality crowd, so networking is very good here. There’s mixed opinion, but the conference’s own networking event, which usually takes over a large Pizza Express restaurant, is useful if you’re new to the scene or haven’t managed to lay the groundwork prior to your visit.
Good for: seminars, networking
Date TBC (usually September)
Game Horizon takes place in Newcastle, UK. The speakers and attendees are high quality and varied. In past years there’s been something there for everyone; students, developers and those involved in business. We’ve found the networking to be particularly good as it’s a small and intimate event. There’s plenty of opportunity to catch up and meet new people during the session breaks. Much of the networking happens at the conference party – there’s no alternative scene – and it’s well run and you know you’ll meet everyone you need to.
Good for: seminars and networking.
Brand Licensing Europe
Brand Licensing Europe is the industry’s main event. Held at London’s Olympia, expect your visit to be noisy and energetic. BLE has been focused primarily on exhibiting and deal making, but the seminars and other activities on the periphery are becoming interesting. Despite its scale and a focus on entertainment brands, BLE isn’t a consumer event, so networking and deals are the main reason most people go. There are some networking services available, but like all large events, you’ll get the most out of it if you work your contacts prior to the show rather than expecting to stumble upon a deal.
Good for: exhibiting, checking out the competition and networking.
ad:Tech clashes with BLE (see above), but if advertising and technology are your gig, this is the headline event to attend in Europe.
Filling London’s Olympia, we’ve seen ad:Tech grow from an impressive trade show to full conference event over the last decade. Represented are global brands right through to agency networks and technology providers big and small.
This year Unilever are sponsoring a Hackathon at the event. Themed around sustainability, it’s an interesting extension to a conference and that makes it pretty novel. This could be a great way for tech startups to make some noise on a grand platform.
We’ve found networking can be difficult at ad:Tech. Although there’s plenty of ad hoc meeting space on the trade show floor, there are no obvious networking tools and its scale turns serendipitous meetings into a long shot. Going in cold is challenging.
Good for: exhibiting and checking out the competition. If you’re a tech startup, look into the hackathon and similar events.
Date TBC (usually in October)
Playful is a small London event with a broad focus on games. This is a good event for indie gamers and people who are interested in how games design can be applied in interesting ways away from the mainstream games industry. Playful may be a little underground and alternative for some, but among the speakers and attendees there are always big names and big surprises. Often quite interactive and practical, expect to be entertained and inspired. The event is small and isn’t really business focused, but it’s a good chance to hear about games design and innovation from impressive established and upcoming talent.
Good for: inspiration and gaining an alternative view on games.
Launch is a small games conference held Birmingham, UK. Drawing on the region’s sizeable games industry, Launch punches well above its weight and you’ll find speakers from major publishers and developers mixed in with talent from the indie scene. With the event being tightly contained within an innovation campus, there are good networking opportunities here with a mix of students, developers and business people. In past years Launch has perhaps been best for students and indie startups.
Good for: seminars and networking.