From May 2 through May 4, 2022, I had the privilege of attending the AAM Summit for the first time. This year’s Summit was held at the exquisite Omni Hotel in Louisville, Kentucky, just days before the start of the Kentucky Derby.
I started in my firm’s marketing department over three years ago, so I don’t necessarily consider myself new to accounting marketing, but after the last two years of all things virtual, this was the first year I was able to attend Summit in person. It was only my second time ever flying, my first time flying alone, and I had connecting flights both to and from Louisville. Combine those factors with the fact that I had never attended, didn’t know anyone, and didn’t know what to expect, I was feeling apprehensive to say the least. However, looking back on the amazing experience I had and the connections I was able to make, I realize that I had nothing to worry about!
Initiatives to Help Attendees Navigate Summit
Before the conference even began, there was a lot of communication from AAM regarding several initiatives that were put in place to help attendees comfortably navigate through the Summit experience, including:
- An AAM Summit app that included a lot of helpful features, such as being able to see the full conference agenda and then filter it down to see your specific schedule based on the sessions you selected. You could also view maps of the various conference rooms to easily identify where you needed to be for your next session. Perhaps the nicest feature of the app was that it stored contact information for all the Summit sponsors, presenters, and attendees, allowing you to quickly grab names and contact information to connect on LinkedIn or via email after Summit ended.
- Run for the Roses is another name for the Kentucky Derby since the winning horse of the race traditionally receives a wreath of roses. True to the Kentucky Derby theme, members of the Summit Welcome Committee wore roses for easy identification, so attendees could “run for the roses” if they had any questions at all about Summit.
- A Wellbeing Lounge was set up with relaxing music, lavender diffusers, and comfortable seating for those who needed a quick retreat from socializing to decompress.
- Summit Social Groups were small, casual groups of attendees who were assigned ahead of Summit. There were several networking breaks scheduled throughout the conference, allowing Summit Social Groups time to connect, share ideas, and develop relationships to last well beyond the three days of the conference.
- Dine & Connect allowed attendees to sign up for dinner with other attendees who were looking to have fun and network in the evening after the sessions ended on Tuesday.
From the beginning, the AAM Summit Committee made it very clear they were focused on providing a great experience, which was comforting as a first timer with a lot of questions.
Building Technical Knowledge by Day
During the welcome remarks on Monday, the Summit Committee Chair, JoLayna Arndt, commented that the goal of Summit was to provide attendees with both “competence and confidence” through “hands-on, how-to content.” I found that to be a very accurate description of the Summit experience.
The days were packed with insightful educational topics. The keynote sessions were interactive and inspiring, such as “Good is the New Cool: How to Market with Purpose” and “Crucial Conversations,” where we learned a cheer to help with identifying critical conversations. Then, the breakout sessions were a bit more technical in nature and covered topics such as talent development, content marketing, data analytics, and client relationship management. Some sessions were led by a single presenter, while others featured a full panel. All of the presenters I experienced were highly qualified individuals who had experienced success and were more than happy to provide bountiful guidance, examples, and resources to help others find success as well.
One of the sessions that I particularly enjoyed was the roundtable session. We were challenged with the task of lining up around the edge of the room in order from most to least experienced, and then we were randomly assigned tables to engage in guided conversation around a variety of topics. One of the topics was just a general “solve my problem” topic, which was really helpful in sharing struggles and getting practical advice from others who had been in the same situation.
Developing Relationships by Night
While the days were full of technical learning, the evenings were filled with relationship building.
I got my first taste of this from the Opening Networking/Awards Reception on Monday. After the sessions ended in the afternoon, everyone gathered together in a separate space with live music, bourbon tasting, and delicious Kentuckian appetizers. The room was full of voices and laughter, of hugs between AAM-ers who hadn’t seen each other since COVID, and introductions between AAM-ers just meeting for the first time. Towards the end of the reception, everyone gathered as the winners were announced for AAM’s 2022 Marketing Achievement Awards. Several people I had connected with won awards, and although I had only just met them some hours prior, we had already developed a closeness where I was genuinely thrilled to see each of them being acknowledged.
Although I was worried I might, I never experienced a feeling of not belonging. I think marketers tend to be welcoming and inclusive by nature, and that was the vibe of Summit. I met so many friendly, knowledgeable, and helpful people while I was in Kentucky – many with whom I intend to stay in touch with on a regular basis. I connected quickly with several individuals that I found myself sitting and conversing with throughout the rest of the conference. During the day, we bonded by learning together and sharing stories of our strategies and tactics, successes and failures, and challenges and solutions. Then in the evenings, we would switch gears and learn more about each other’s lives over dinner and drinks. You really got a sense that people enjoyed each other’s company and that we were building relationships based not just on what we were learning about accounting marketing, but also based on our shared experiences – both within our firms and within our personal lives.
Connecting with Others Who Have Shared Experiences
Reflecting on my Summit experience, I am in awe of just how relieving it felt to be in a room full of my peers. I have several friends who work in marketing but do not understand the structure, terminology, or other nuances of a public accounting firm. Conversely, I work closely with over 100 accounting professionals who have a deep understanding of the industry but don’t always understand the role of marketing. Prior to Summit, it felt as though my three coworkers in our marketing department were the only people in the world who understood my distinct role as an accounting marketer! It was astonishing to fly to Kentucky and suddenly find myself in the presence of over 300 individuals who could relate to the unique climate and challenges of accounting marketing. There were so many a-ha! moments for me at Summit, just listening to other people talk about their experiences and realizing that we all share the same goals and face a lot of the same challenges, even though we work for different firms and are scattered across the country.
Advice for Future First Timers
If I had any advice for future first-timers at Summit, it would be to absorb as much information as you can and to connect with as many individuals as possible while you’re attending the conference. You will come home feeling incredibly inspired, and you’ll have TONS of ideas you’ll want to implement, but I would suggest you narrow that list down to a handful of actionable things that you can realistically accomplish by the end of the year. Once you have that list, consider the people you’ve met and who might be able to provide guidance as you work towards accomplishing those items.
About Kayla Juba
Kayla Juba is the Marketing Coordinator for Brown Schultz Sheridan & Fritz (BSSF), a premier advisory firm providing accounting, assurance, tax and consulting services across the Mid-Atlantic region. She received her Bachelor of Arts degree in Communication/Journalism from Shippensburg University. Kayla has more than nine years of experience in marketing communications and has worked in accounting marketing for over three years. Prior to joining BSSF, Kayla worked in event planning and fundraising for several nonprofit organizations in the Central Pennsylvania area.