Leading Meeting Professionals

Professional Convention Management Association

August 2012

Grand Designs

By Michelle Russell, Editor in Chief

Several hundred agency owners, creative directors, and creative recruiters 

Working as a creative at large ad agencies, The 3% Conference’s founder, Kat Gordon, was disheartened by the absence of women in senior leadership positions.  Indeed, of all the creative directors at North American ad agencies, only 3 percent are women (hence the conference name).  Gordon cites a study in which 90 percent of female consumer respondents -- who represent the majority of purchasers -- said they felt that advertisers do not understand them.  The 3% Conference is intended to remedy “this age-old problem.” 


Advertising agency leaders and academics

In retrospect, Kat Gordon, who owns Maternal Instinct, a Palo Alto–based agency focused on marketing to mothers, thinks it’s “crazy” that she’s spent the last year organizing a brand-new conference. After all, she said, “I can barely host a dinner party.” But she hasn't let her lack of event- organizing skills stop her.

“Maybe there are other people like me out there that don’t think of themselves as a conference planner, but as a thought leader, or a visionary, or somebody that has something to contribute,” she said. “I think an event is a great way to mobilize people around an issue. The things that gave me pause about doing [this conference] were the things that I’m not good at, but you can outsource those. You don’t have to be good at everything. You just have to have the vision and be able to bring together the right group of people to make it a compelling event.”

Here’s how Gordon conceived of and planned out her vision:

It Started at a Conference

Holding a conference to address the paucity of female creative directors was something Gordon thought about for several years before she articulated it. That happened in a very public way two summers ago, when she spoke at the 140 Characters Conference in San Francisco on “the snowballing power of the female consumer, and what companies were doing wrong to connect with her,” she said. “One of [which] was not having enough women on their account at their ad agency. So the night before I gave my talk at that conference, I thought, ‘You know what, I’m just going to announce this conference, and see what happens.’”

Which she did, saying at the end of her 140 Characters presentation: “And a new conference is being generated to address this, called The 3% Conference.” She’d created a Twitter handle @3percentconf) that morning. “It was kind of like, let’s just see if there is interest,” Gordon said. “A lot of people responded to that initial tweet from that conference about this other conference. And that started the ball rolling.”

Business Plan

Gordon didn't want to bring people together “and just have it be a great fest,” she said. “I wanted it to be a problem-solving event. I spent a lot of time reading online and discovered some really good papers written by some academics ...on the different issues facing women in advertising.”

Gordon’s copywriting skills came in handy as she developed a questionnaire, which in June 2011 she sent to 50 female creatives at ad agencies, requesting their feedback on which items were of greatest interest to them -- and who they thought should sponsor the event. It turned out that they ranked ad-agency sponsors really low -- an “important data point” for Gordon, who realized that “if you’re going to get together and discuss an issue that’s so long overdue, and a lot of women have hurt feelings or bad stories around it, you almost don’t want to be hosted by an ad agency that day -- where you feel like you’re kind of dissing the host. You want to be able to have complete honesty. And so that really led me to not even try to sell sponsorships to ad agencies.” Overall, Gordon said the feedback “was a resounding yes -- ‘Yes, this is needed.’ ‘Yes, I want to help.’ ‘Yes, I would come.’” She received helpful speaker recommendations as well. “That’s when I felt I had the green light to proceed,” she said.

Getting the Word Out

Gordon launched The 3% Conference website (3percentconf.com) this past February. “I put up a landing page immediately, and it was pretty crappy,” she said. “I was a little bit embarrassed. ...When you’re trying to entice people in advertising to come to an event, they have a pretty good design sensibility. But it was well written and it explained the premise of the event, and just allowed people to sign up for email.  That was a way I could quickly capture and start building a database in advance of having a fully functioning website.”

Conference Hopping

Over the past year, Gordon made a point of attending about eight conferences, and speaking at a few. “I felt it was almost my research assignment to kind of watch the mechanics of a conference, see what I thought made for a compelling conference, and see things I didn't want to replicate at our event,” she said. She attended large conferences, such as BlogHer, with 6,000 attendees, as well as smaller meetings, to get a feel for what would be the appropriate number of attendees to aim for at this first-time event. “It was pretty much a stab in the dark,” she said. “I had been told that for a first-year conference, anything over 100 attendees is successful. So I set a big, audacious goal, and said, ‘Let’s do 200 people. I think that’s doable.’”

As an active conference observer, Gordon had two main takeaways for her own event. “I’m kind of introverted, and so going to a conference where you don’t know anyone is overwhelming,” she said. “I wanted opportunities for socialization that would make it easy on someone that might be there without co-workers.” She is hoping to accomplish that with a welcome cocktail party the evening before and a relaxed, outdoor lunch during the conference. 

The other thing she realized is that while “there are a lot of smart people in the world that have interesting things to share from the stage, there aren’t a lot of people that have a stage presence,” she said. “I definitely wanted to think about the people I’m putting on stage and make [sure they’re] firecrackers. Also, I just moderated my first panel, and that’s a different kind of art. I learned to have respect for what makes a good speaker, what makes a good moderator, and to really do my homework about who I was putting on my agenda.”

Venue Selection

Gordon worked with Karen Daitch, owner of San Francisco–based One K Events, to come up with a short list of venues that were available on Sept. 27 (the date Gordon had selected), that could accommodate 200 attendees, “and that had the right feeling,” she said. She toured them all in one day with Daitch, and ultimately chose One Leidesdorff, a venue that “had a lot of efficiencies built into it. They own both buildings in this small alleyway in downtown San Francisco, so you can get a city permit and put these hedges at both ends and have lunch outside, which is just incredible in September in San Francisco.”

Gordon had not yet hired Daitch when she selected an upscale hotel that she felt would appeal to design-minded women. “I feel like that’s something that I didn't do a great job on - at negotiating, because I just reached out to them and they gave me a link to put on our website

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