Last week, Marica, Tyler, and Joe flew from snowy New Hampshire all the way across the country to sunny Arizona to attend the iMedia Agency Summit in Scottsdale. Set at the spectacular Camelback Inn resort, you might be led to believe this was a boondoggle. Sure there were some good times, but as usual iMedia put on a worthwhile conference with solid networking and a speaker lineup that brought their A-game to the stage. Here are some of the insights we brought back home with us.

1. Everything is branding

alicia hatch cmo deloitte digital

“A brand is the culmination of hundreds of little decisions. Decisions which typically span across dozens of business functions and several partners and providers.” Alicia Hatch, CMO of Deloitte Digital, reminded us that everything from thread count to employee satisfaction is branding. Watch her presentation.

2. The agency/brand relationship is strong

IMAA iMedia Presentation

Results from a study done by Interactive Marketing Association Alliance (IMAA) showed that brands agreed with the following statements:

  • 75% “Agencies play an important strategic role for Brands.”
  • 68% “My agency team cares about my business like it was their own.”
  • 70% “I have a strong relationship with my Agency.”

These high approval ratings were a surprise to many attendees. Watch the presentation.

3. The agency/technology provider relationship is dysfunctional

On the other hand, technology providers and agencies are still trying to figure each other out:

  • 41% of technology providers agree that “Agencies I work with always provide thorough briefings including all the information we need to deliver a strong recommendation.”
  • 37% of technology providers agree that “Agencies I work with really try to provide the time necessary for us to put our best foot forward.”
  • 80% of brands want direct communications with the solutions providers
  • and 66% of solutions providers want to work directly with brands
  • but 80% of agencies agreed that “When Solutions Providers work directly with Brands instead of Agencies, the Brand/Agency relationship is made weaker.”

This dysfunctional three-way relationship is pulled straight from the plot of No Exit by Jean-Paul Sartre. Not a healthy triumvirate. Watch the presentation.

4. Marketers always find a way to game the system

This year iMedia rolled out an app to help connect attendees. All attendees had a four digit code that you’d have to enter in order to connect with them on the app. To spur adoption, the app also kept score of how successful you’ve been at connecting and interacting at the summit (submitting questions for presenters through the app, answering poll questions, etc.). The person at the end of the summit with the most points won a Google Home.

Surprise, surprise. It took less than a day for a marketer to figure out a way to game the system, and it was surprisingly very old school. Adam Telian at Mediahub input numbers sequentially from 0000 – 9999 in order to connect with almost everyone in the conference through the app giving him the win despite cries of foul from second place Travis McGlasson of Simantel. Here are some of the best tweets of the race to number one:

5. A compelling case for two stage attribution

Today’s most prevalent attribution method is still simple last click attribution. Under this method, whichever advertisement gets the last click gets credit for the sale. It’s super easy to game this system by cookie bombing and retargeting.

In one of the best presentations of the entire conference, Valter Sciarrillo, Product Marketing at Quantcast made an excellent case for two stage attribution. The boundary between the two stages is the first visit to the site. Under this arrangement, you assign credit for driving traffic to the site separately from closing the deal. This gives top of the funnel traffic drivers more credit for the sales they generate. Conversely, it gives less credit for bottom of the funnel retargeters.

6. The blue blazer is the preferred outfit of sellers

Blue suits

If you want to find the vendors at an agency conference, look for the middle-aged guys in blue blazers. THEY. WERE. EVERYWHERE.

7. iMedia can do the Mannequin Challenge

Chris Ahrens directed a large-scale mannequin challenge among conference attendees. And we pulled it off impressively.

8. Do-it-all is not always good

Jenna Watson, VP of Media at Razorfish says you offer MORE value to the customer if your agency is:

  • Honest about its strengths
  • Transparent about and willing to outsource its weaknesses
  • Carve out time and budget to occasionally work from your client’s office
  • Test, consume and immerse yourselves in your client’s products/brand – nothing like getting a real-time perspective on the brand you represent

Watch her presentation.

9. Square peg in round hole is top theme


At least three presentations had a slide showing a picture of a square peg in a round hole. Why is this a trend? Are marketers feeling alienated? Maybe K2 should investigate that, too.

10. Machine learning and the future of marketing

iMedia panel

Machine learning can radically expand the scale and scope of market research and gain insights. Make your campaigns work harder, while providing more immersive and personalized experience. Watch their fireside chat.

11. We weren’t the most famous visitors to the Camelback Inn

Some of the more recent celebrities to vacation at Camelback Inn include Oprah Winfrey, former president George Bush, Rebecca Romijn, Dr. Ruth, Tom Selleck, Cindy Crawford, Bobby Flay.

12. Agencies want

Software that reads their mind is intuitive and easy to use. Vendor personnel that provides fast, productive, white-glove service, and that they don’t have to manage. Great, receptive partners.

13. Agencies can’t stand

  • Excel sheets
  • Being kept in the dark
  • Vendors and media that go direct to the customers

14. People from Phoenix are optimists about their water situation


Set in the desert with a population of 4.3 million people, which is expected to double by 2050, you’d expect there to be serious concern about running out of water. Not in Phoenix. They believe they have enough water to last forever. We hope so because it is truly a spectacular place. Time will tell.

15. A kid can learn to love reading and win a sweet bike

Like many conferences, we got an afternoon break from the conference agenda. Unlike other conferences, iMedia organized a fulfilling and healthy alternative to checking email or pregaming the evening activities: assembling bicycles for a worthy charitable cause. These sweet Huffy bikes are for kids who’ve read a bunch of books and are discovering a love of reading. These bikes are awarded through a program called Books for Bikes run by the Every Kid Counts Children’s Charity. In just an hour or so, the industrious iMedia volunteer group built 13 new bikes for these young readers.

16. Best breakfast at PHX airport

Huevos con Chorizo at Barrio Cafe. Sausage is spicy. Bread is fresh. The attentive service and beautiful murals on the walls establish an airport sanctuary.

17. Best lunch at BWI airport

Crab cakes and Very Berry Shake at Silver Diner. The crab cakes are loaded with actual crab, not bread. This is Maryland, after all. Despite coming with a fat straw, the Very Berry Shake is difficult to drink because it’s loaded with actual blueberries. It’s probably not “healthy” as claimed on the menu, but it’s good. Quick service keeps you on schedule for your connecting flight.

18. Waiting at the top of Camelback is a festive surprise

According to the locals that we spoke to the Camelback Christmas tree is an area tradition. The version we saw was smaller than the original one, which was unfortunately vandalized and had to be replaced. Really gets you in the holiday spirit after making the climb.