It's with a twinge of sadness, yet focused resolve, that I share with you our decision to cancel Element Three’s fourth annual conference.
This whole crazy idea to host a conference started with a couple of goals. And here they are - in order of priority for us.
1. Elevate our brand.
When this started, we had been in the Indianapolis market for seven years, and were still relatively unknown. We knew hosting a conference would help introduce Element Three to the marketplace as a company that was committed to thought leadership in our industry. And what better way to spend a day, than to learn from a line-up of smart speakers and to hang out with other marketers from the city and surrounding areas.
2. Help us compete for talent.
As Element Three stays committed to growth, continuing to find the very best people, in every single thing we do, remains one of our biggest hurdles. We knew putting on a conference would get our name, and brand, in front of a lot of top talent in the Indianapolis area, and that perhaps we could make some connections with people who would fit into our journey someday.
3. Create a unique learning opportunity for our employees.
Inside Element Three, “stay curious”is one of our core values. What better way to boldly live this out than to put on a conference where we invited our employees, and 500 friends, to attend a full day of learning and exploration. And an added bonus? Well, we got to work together really hard to pull off this great big project – putting together and then throwing a conference!
4. Give clients exposure to new ideas and new technologies.
We want to help our clients win big - and we believe exposing them to new ideas and new perspectives would help us better solve their problems together. Plus, have you ever told someone a thousand times that something was going to be a good idea, and then, all of a sudden, when someone else confirmed it… you were suddenly a genius? Yep, this was part of the big plan and vision too.
5. Help close new business.
While obtaining new clients was a goal, it was the last of our goals – and by a mile. We knew that it would be part of a much larger vetting experience, and process, to select an agency partner than just attending a conference, but having our name in front of new companies and brands certainly helped us get in the selection set more often.
So what happened?
Well, in a word, success. The goal from the beginning was to put on a conference with 500 attendees. It took us three years to achieve this milestone, we thought it would take us five.
The conference in 2015 was awesome. We received fantastic feedback from attendees on the quality of the content. We successfully added a second track - and moved people through the agenda with near precision. Thanks to the event planning wizards at MaryBeth Smith and Associates - the day ran with grace and composure. We had fun, even added an after-party and we received high marks and praise from the speakers and sponsors on the overall awesomeness of the day.
But like anything worth doing - and worth doing well, there is a big expense to making it all happen. And ultimately when we weighed the investment necessary (not just in money, but time) to keep making the conference bigger, with even better speakers and even more surprises - we were taking our eye off the ball of our first (and most important) responsibility.
Our clients. Our company. And our culture.
So, why stop now?
I’ve often found that the difference between good and great, is not what you decide to say ‘yes’ to, but what you decide to say ‘no’ to. Fragmentation in focus makes it impossible to do our very best work.
We have been very blessed with continued growth as a company. It’s been 20%+ for the 4th year in a row now. This trajectory takes careful time and attention from a lot of smart, crazy talented people. And if starting Element Three is the hardest thing I’ve ever done; then scaling it would be the second hardest. Figuring out the structure, processes, people, training, money, and partners it takes to make sure we are as proud of this company when it’s big, as we are when it’s small (and growing,) is very hard work. And it’s taking all of our attention.
I realized I was pushing the team (and myself) too hard. As leaders, sometimes we have to take a step back and assess how much stress you are putting on the organization. And when you're pushing too hard, admit it. And pull back the reins.
So what’s next?
Is it gone forever? Maybe. I don’t know yet. But I do know that we aren’t going to stop trying to achieve the five goals outlined above – we’re just going to use different strategies that fit better with the things we have to do to continue to grow successfully.
I’ll invite you to stay close as we work on some new and exciting initiatives that will be revealed in the coming months. Thank you for going on this ride with us. Doing this conference was one of the most exhilarating (and satisfying) challenges I’ve ever taken on in my career.
Thanks for your time,
Tiffany Sauder is the CEO of Element Three, a full-service marketing consultancy in Indianapolis. After taking over in 2006, she’s transformed E3 from a small creative shop into one of the fastest-growing marketing consultancies in the Midwest. Outside the office, she spends time with her husband and three daughters, runs half marathons, and is practicing for the day The Food Network calls to cast her on Chopped.
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