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  • Lauren Johns

Midwest Digital Marketing Conference: Student Feature and Sneak Peek

By: Lauren Johns

In 2013, the Midwest Digital Marketing Conference (MDMC), formerly known as “The State of Digital Media Marketing Conference,” was founded by UMSL. The conference garnered immense success fairly quickly, doubling the number of participants within a four-year timespan. Then MDMC2019 came along like a force to be reckoned with, reaching 2,000 attendees and acquiring 130 speakers from prominent companies like BuzzFeed, Under Armour and Google, according to their website.

Previous MDMC event by Perry Drake

As stated by Perry Drake, the MDMC founder and marketing department chair, the event’s website was optimized with specific keywords so that it could rank higher in search results. As a result of his cleverness, when people are looking for “best marketing conferences” on Google, they will quickly stumble across

This year’s conference is scheduled for May 13-15 at the Touhill Performing Arts Center and will feature several amazing speakers, which are being announced on their social media sites such as Facebook, Youtube, Instagram, Linkedin and X.

As mighty as this conference may seem, a small team of students and alumni handle the bulk of its weight. 

Photo courtesy of Alex Hill

Marketing Intern and Social Media Manager Alex Hill was looking for a way to further her education in the marketing realm. By reaching out to Drake, she was given the opportunity to help run a conference under the guise of an internship.

“I ended up going to the conference for a day last year, just to see what it was like,” Hill said. “Then when it hit July, we were having preliminary meetings about the conference, like what to expect.”

According to Hill, after one conference wraps up, they immediately move on to the next one, which creates an endless posting cycle.

“We were posting two times a week, but now we are up to three to four times a week since it's so close to the conference,” Hill said. “All the social media posts need to align and have similar branding.”

While this new experience has ignited Hill’s passion for marketing, she has encountered a bit of a learning curve with design work.

“I have zero experience with graphic design, so understanding and learning Canva has probably been my biggest obstacle,” Hill said. “I'm needing to figure out what works and not make graphics that are completely ugly. With my other experience with social media, I was mostly just taking pictures. It was a lot easier than figuring out graphics.”

Despite her initial struggles, her posts have been impactful in regards to increasing engagement.

“I’ve been working closely with Mindy Choo, (an UMSL alumni and the executive director of MDMC), and she’s been a big help when it comes to learning the ins and outs of design and the best practices for our social media.”

Photo courtesy of Mindy Choo

Despite it being Choo’s first year as executive director, she dove in headfirst and feels confident in her abilities.

“My previous career experiences being involved in trade shows and corporate events have helped me develop some skills in managing large events,” Choo said. “However, what will probably help me most is my sense of humor. With so many moving pieces, Murphy's law is a reality in live events, so being able to laugh it off and pivot will serve me best.”

Her main tasks include event promotion, digital presence (working closely with Hill) and speaker management. She labels these as “pre-conference” responsibilities. 

“This conference is all about sharing knowledge and building community,” Choo said. “It also operates as a non-profit because all proceeds go back to the university in the form of marketing scholarships, faculty research support, software needs, programming support and equipment needs.”

In addition, the conference partners with local organizations to give out free passes to youth groups, entrepreneurs and volunteers. 

Choo holds a lot of gratitude for the opportunity to work a high-profile role for a prestigious event, and the illustrious team behind her.  

“I am grateful to Dr. Perry Drake for offering me this opportunity,” Choo said. “He believed in me before I believed in myself. I also want to recognize Brianna Miller, the former executive director. She has been a great example of how much impact a single person can make in the digital marketing community. Lastly, Thomas O'Connell, the production director, has been my primary source of support, information and positivity.”

Photo courtesy of Rebecca Bechtel

While Dr. Drake has made an immense contribution, his graduate assistant, Rebecca Bechtel also makes a meaningful impact. She started this role in Jan. 2023 and is responsible for creating and designing marketing materials such as the conference program and helping with last-minute preparations.

“I also plan and run our youth group program where we invite local youth groups such as Girls Inc. or the STL Science Center teen program to come and spend a day at MDMC and get the chance to talk to some of the speakers in a more personal setting,” Bechtel said.

A majority of these kids are in their final years of high school so they are preparing for adulthood.

“We teach the kids to dress professionally and properly network,” Bechtel said. “They get insights on what a career in marketing would be like. Since social media is heavily utilized nowadays, kids are especially interested in that.”

Bechtel works hard to ensure that all programs run as seamlessly as possible, even when various obstacles arise. 

“Last year, a speaker was running late because they were stuck in traffic and we had to make sure their session still ended on time or else it would mess with all the other sessions, creating a sort of ripple effect,” Bechtel said. “Now, we make sure speakers get there early or we have a backup plan in place.”

Bechtel owes a lot of her success to Dr. Drake, Choo and O’Connell. 

If you’re on the fence about attending, Choo emphasizes the superiority of the event and the surplus of opportunities for growth and posterity. 

“This is not just a networking event,” Choo said. The speakers and presenters represent Tech Giants, Fortune 100 companies, local entrepreneurs and STL community builders. There is a common misconception that this is an academic conference. Instead, it's a conference for digital marketing professionals who come not just from the Midwest, but from all over the USA. Whether you're early in your career or a chief marketing officer, there is something to learn about digital marketing at MDMC.”

Previous MDMC event by Wendy Todd

Attendees can expect various panels about the rise of artificial intelligence, the appearance of beloved mascots like Louie of St. Louis Blues, Fredbird of St. Louis Cardinals, and various keynote speakers like Stephanie Garcia of Lights, Camera, Live® and Raashi Rosenberger of Meta Quest.

For more information about the conference, check out this video by Dr. Drake.


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