We’ve all heard the age old adage, “Necessity is the Mother of Invention.” While often true, this does not accurately epitomize the current conference environment in the marketing research and insights profession. 

A quick Google search will reveal over 50 “unique” offerings for in-person education and networking. This is a relatively small industry, folks. Lots of hyperbole bubbles up in the marketing, but how does one event truly differentiate itself in this landscape? Indeed, it is a crowded arena with new shows regularly spotting the calendar. Additional events clearly are not being procreated by necessity.

MRA’s take on the professional development space could instead be summed up by Mason Cooley’s “Art begins in imitation and ends in innovation.” That is to say, we readily acknowledge that the conference itself is not a unique concept, but to put on a successful event, you need to be transformative. The industry is not crying out for more seminars and workshops. However, as professionals, we continue to seek uncommon content, new opportunities and any inspiration that can help give us an edge in our respective businesses.

For nearly 45 years, MRA has been curating marketing research seminars, often to critical acclaim. That longevity does not come without the ability to evolve and effectively fill gaps in the marketplace. This year, in addition to dozens of chapter offerings, MRA is playing host to three national meetings. 

In February, the association held its biannual CEO Summit in the esteemed hills of Napa Valley. The perfect setting for the retreat-like format, top industry business leaders from around the globe congregated in Wine Country to seek inspiration, benchmark, share best practices, and strategize for the future in a dynamic business climate. The formal program itself was exemplary, but the intangible benefits were incomparable. Attendees were privy to three days of insightful and intimate conversations with an extraordinary group of C-level leaders in a non-competitive environment. Many attendees declared it the single best industry event they had ever attended with pleas to make it an annual affair. Plans are underway to host this event annually (Miami 2016!), as well other similar formats for other niche professionals within the industry.

As spring gives way to summer, MRA will hold its Insights & Strategies Conference (ISC) the first week of June at the Hilton San Diego Bayfront. A mainstay on marketing research calendars, ISC offers more of a deep dive into practical skills than you find at the average trade event. The show kicks off with optional all-day training sessions to provide the applied, how-to manual it’s challenging to reach at standard conference breakout sessions. With four carefully crafted tracks, ISC overlays a rare blend of contemporary methodology with more daring and pioneering, allowing attendees to chart the future path for both their company, personal brand and long-term career. Content partnerships with Research Rockstar, Actus Sales Intelligence, and the Qualitative Research Association (QRCA) will deliver an expansive view of the profession. Additionally, the event will feature five top-flight keynotes, four of which come from outside the MR profession. With about 40 speakers providing an in-depth look at the present and future of the industry, MRA feels compelled to demonstrate thought leadership from beyond our confines to provide indispensable business trend insight, inspiration and vision for change to attendees.

MRA’s final conference of the year will be the Corporate Researchers Conference (CRC) in St. Louis. This is arguably the most unique event based on concept alone. CRC was the offspring of an observation that the majority of industry educational content was focused on supplier issues. Aside from the odd session at a larger conference, there was not a safe haven where corporate researchers could come together to share business challenges impacting those who manage or oversee the research and insights function at companies who sell something other than research. Hence, CRC was born as the only conference programmed by and for corporate researchers. Programming is well underway and there are some new innovations planned. One will be a matchmaking service to help forge more compatible (and desired) connections for buyers and suppliers than can often be consummated over the proverbial conference chicken luncheon. There will be many other surprises in store as well.

In my years, I have rarely seen such comprehensive dedication to the process of concepting, planning and vetting conference content as I have in my experience with MRA. We are blessed to practice our trade at a time in history when there is no shortage of professional development content. With that comes greater demands on our time and more noise to break through to find truly exceptional and custom-tailored education. MRA readily acknowledges this challenge and will continue to remain committed to the path of innovation over imitation.

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