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SparkPost's OptIn '19 Delivers Diversity, Community—and Turkeys?

I’m a big fan of the trend toward intimate, single-track conferences that are more like a retreat than a business trip, and OptIn ’19, presented by Iterable partner SparkPost, did not disappoint.

The cozy event, held Oct. 29-30 at the stunning Carmel Valley Ranch in Carmel, Calif., was something special.

Last spring I gushed over the sense of community at Really Good Email’s UNSPAM conference in charming Greenville, SC. OptIn, too, offered a picturesque destination and a casual atmosphere that just made folks feel comfortable.

With an agenda purposefully designed to encourage interactions with other conference-goers, OptIn kicked off with a variety of activities, including hiking, archery and yoga, to help break the ice between attendees.

New friendships were formed around fire pits (and over conversations about the grounds’ aggressive, free-roaming wild turkeys). Unlike mega conferences that can often leave attendees feeling isolated and overwhelmed, OptIn was all about connections.

As for content, the conference was heavy on panels, which drove home the sense that this was an event about diverse ideas—and, literally, diversity itself.

Women of Email was invited to lead a panel discussion on Diversity and Inclusion in Email and host a lounge where current and prospective members, as well as allies, could enjoy refreshments and find out more about the 501(c)3 association.

I had the pleasure of moderating the Diversity and Inclusion panel, which featured three members of WoE’s speakers bureau: Whitney Sullivan and Makena Barickman, both of Zillow, and Alice Cornell of Change.org.

Our discussion focused on the importance of diverse hiring practices and the realities of implementing accessibility in email for neurodiverse and vision-impaired audiences.

Whitney also dove into a recent Zillow campaign promoting the company’s participation in Pride and LGBTQ+ initiatives—an effort that received a deeply divided response from email recipients and on social media.

Other hot themes and topics at OptIn included:

  • The latest buzz surrounding AMP for Email
  • The capabilities and current shortcomings of artificial intelligence
  • The challenges of personalization and data management
  • The effects of current and impending privacy legislation affecting email domestically and internationally

I found myself agreeing with a lot of the points made by panelists, and disagreeing with some others—and I think that’s a really good thing. Different points of view and unique experiences are what makes the world go ‘round. And nothing anyone says on a stage is 100% gospel, myself included!

I also have to give SparkPost kudos for delivering not one but two terrific female keynotes. It’s rare to find women keynotes in our industry—a recent study showed that women only represent a quarter of keynote and standalone speakers at tech conferences.

Data scientist Hilary Mason made the complexities of AI digestible, and even funny! While the delightful Michelle Poler challenged us to get out of our comfort zones—then schooled us all with her clever inbound-SMS email list-building strategy.

(If you haven’t heard of her, check out Michelle’s videos facing 100 fears in 100 days—you won’t be sorry!)

The conference ended on a high note with special guest Justin Willman of Netflix’s Magic for Humans, who kept us laughing and amazed all at once.

The journey to OptIn wasn’t easy for this east-coaster—but Team SparkPost certainly made it worthwhile.

Congratulations, SparkPost, on a tremendous success, and thank you for taking this unique approach aimed squarely at supporting the email community through thoughtful engagement. Carmel offered both a literal and figurative breath of fresh air.

Looking forward to more of the same in 2020—turkeys optional!

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