Celebrating its 8th UN-conference anniversary – ProductCamp Toronto 2015 ran on Saturday July 25th. Being a grassroots effort, run by volunteers and supported by sponsors – the event was completely free to all participants. Over 140 Product Marketers, Product Managers, consultants, sponsors and Marketing Manager came out to network, share, and learn.
What is it?
ProductCamp events are meant to bring Product Managers, Product Marketers and Marketing professionals together to learn from each other, engage in meaningful conversations about the profession, and create a forum to encourage open networking.
If you have never been to a ‘Camp – unconference’ they are democratically run, by volunteers from a professional association. ProductCamp Toronto leverages the Toronto Product Marketing & Management Association (TPMA – of which I am an executive). Camp events are either free to participants or require a nominal fee which covers expenses like facility rentals, food and miscellaneous supplies for the event. For example a $40 fee to partake in a two day event like WordCamp Toronto (October 3-4, 2015) is a small price compared to typical conferences fees of $300 – $5000 which targets business people, executives and corporations.
Unconferences have a refreshing aspect to them in that seminars and presentations are lead by thought leaders within the profession. Real world challenges are raised and discusses, with a helping of best practices thrown in for good measure. Some seminars are open forum sessions meant to inspire discussion and even the odd debate concerning challenges in the industry. An example includes a look at particularly problematic aspects of Agile Development implementations and the high failure rate within large organisations. Another session might discuss career directions, review practitioner observed trends in the industry, or compare various tools used by professionals.
For Product Marketing and Product Management – this year’s event included many hot topics – recommended and voted on by the participants. A total of 20 topics were covered on career, Marketing and Technical orientations. On the Technical side, seminars covered why product management is so hard, UX design without a UX team, failing fast and cheap, and a classic discussion on the foundations of Product Management. A sample of Marketing topics, included: PR for Product Managers, Let’s Talk Business Cases, Excellence in Product Marketing, Marketing Personas and Tools, and Developing a Product Strategy for a New Product Launch.
A great aspect of this years’ unconference was one stream of seminars being targeted at expressly interactive sessions. This meant NO use of slides. No slides encouraged discussion leaders to use brainstorming techniques and interactive open discussions to address the topic at hand. As a frequent conference attendee, I found it to be invigorating to work with colleagues whom I just met or sparingly knew – to brainstorm on a topic to create a solution to an industry challenge. All this done within the seminar window.
In one such discussion which I was fortunate to lead, we brainstormed on defining Excellence in Product Marketing. Given that Product Marketing is itself an extremely broad practice area, creating a common definition was a solid first step toward setting a common set of standard metrics for the specialization. With a brain trust exceeding a dozen professionals from various companies and industries, a solid and robust set of metrics / observation emerged. Developing a common set of criteria to define excellence will help attendees both identify and distinguish excellence from mediocrity in the field. Participants both improved their grasp of an ill defined field, and created a Product Marketing Excellence Scorecard – as a result of the session. Perhaps a future step might be to create an awards program using this scorecard to recognize and standardize on excellence in the profession.
Aside from learning new practices, techniques or observing trends, a central reasons many professionals attend conferences, is to network with other professionals in their field. With over 140 attendees, there were ample opportunities to network with fellow practitioners, topic presenters, podcasters, bloggers, sponsoring firms, and the occasional industry recruiter. Despite the currently challenging Canadian jobs market (remnants of the Great Recession), there were several confirmations that finding talented candidates in either Product Marketing and in Technical Product Management – remains a challenge. An excellent source for such candidates – are events like ProductCamp.
What if I missed it?
Given the grass roots nature of ProductCamp Toronto – the good news is that presentations shown in the seminars – will be uploaded to the main website. Review the http://ProductCampToronto.ca/ site to find the presentations you most wish to find.
If you did miss it, you will not be able to make up for the missed networking opportunity. However, should a topic be of interest, consider reaching out to the presenter. Many presenters include their contact information at the beginning or end of the slides. Reach out to them using LinkedIn, Twitter or their email address. Remember that many of the topic presenters are thought leaders in the Marketing or Product fields. A conversation with them about a challenge you may be facing in your firm, could be well worth the effort. Most presenters will be pleased to discuss a topic of interest on a short telephone call, via email, or in a 30 minute face to face meeting over a coffee. Reach out to them, and make that connection.
Recognizing the many hours of preparation, and effort that went into running this unconference – thanks to all the volunteers, thought-leading presenters, sponsors, and helpers. The various topics were informative and engaging, with great profession oriented discussions taking place throughout.
I definitely look forward to next year’s event! If we have not already met, perhaps we can meet there – in person.
Author: Charles Dimov