My first Affiliate Summit was the second one in the history of the conference. I’m already dating myself here, but I had only been in affiliate marketing for a grand total of 6 months before attending this first event and I was still trying to figure out how it all worked, so I went in pretty clueless.
The conference took place in 2004 on a Carnival Cruise ship that went from NYC to Nova Scotia and back to NYC. Here’s my cliff note’s comparison of that event vs. Affiliate Summit West in Las Vegas that just wrapped up last Wednesday.
Affiliate Summit 2004 had about 230 attendees including a few several big brands as far as merchants. I went to the show with Brian Littleton, the founder of ShareASale. The cruise ship was great for meeting new people at gatherings because there were only a few options for casual networking in bars or clubs on the ship. People couldn’t really get away from the conference or wander off with friends because everyone was essentially trapped on one ship and it was impossible to avoid running into other attendees.
There wasn’t an exhibit hall as we are all now familiar with at the Affiliate Summits of today, but they did have several panels and learning sessions. I remember a lot of the discussion was focused on ethical marketing practices and avoiding pitfalls of affiliate marketing that at the time were very plentiful. Affiliate Marketing needed a bit of housecleaning in the early days and I think that was one of the goals for Missy Ward and Shawn Collins, the two founders of Affiliate Summit.
ShareASale wasn’t very well known in the industry at this point, but Brian and I hoped this conference would give us a chance to make a name for ourselves and gain some traction. Late at night, Brian and I were walking around and stumbled upon a piano sitting right outside one of the night clubs on the ship. Brian happens to be quite the talent on the piano. Bingo! Brian and I hatched a plan to set up shop at the piano and catch people coming out of the bar.
Brian played some piano bar favorites and a small crowd gathered to sing along and watch Brian play. The crowd grew quite large and I remember at the end of the night, one of the attendees came out, saw the crowd around the piano, and said “who is that on the piano?” I yelled “ShareASale!” and he replied “Awesome! I don’t know what you do but I am joining ShareASale tomorrow!” We had our hook. The piano would be our launching pad at future Affiliate Summits.
In comparing that first show to this most recent one in Las Vegas at Caesars Palace, there just aren’t too many similarities. The sheer size of the show for starters makes it feel nothing at all like my first one on the ship. There were over 5,000 attendees at ASW13.
I spent most of my time at the show in the exhibit hall at the conference. Our booth had a steady stream of traffic and visitors including prospective retailers and affiliates. We don’t use a piano anymore to attract potential customers! In place of the piano, we have our booth and we also hosted a big masquerade party on Sunday night at the Paris Hotel. Pretty big step up from our two-person piano bar operation!
There are now learning tracks covering almost every topic related to Affiliate Marketing. There are formal and informal networking events going on all day and night long. The only thing that the show of today doesn’t have is the feeling of being held captive on a Cruise Ship and not being able to escape without jumping overboard. But that’s a good thing in my opinion. Everyone needs some downtime, especially when you are on your feet and talking to people for 8 hours straight.
Affiliate Summit West 2013 was a great show, and many thanks to Shawn and Missy for starting it up in 2003 and growing it to what it is today. It’s been a major contributor to the growth of ShareASale second only to the piano.