Because I don’t want to bury the lede for such an important announcement, here goes: Media Grits, our advanced tourism marketing and travel media conference, will be coming to Franklin, Tennessee from Aug. 5-7. When I said 2020 was going to be a busy year, I wasn’t lying!
How Media Grits came about
SVV and I spent 18 months in 2012 and 2013 producing a conference for digital entrepreneurs dubbed KEEN; it was sponsored by Omni Hotels and the opening conference for the brand’s Nashville property. It was a success with 450 people in attendance, and we had an excellent time producing it, but it was time-consuming, and doing another at that point in our life just wasn’t feasible. SVV was still working a day job at my dad’s CPA firm, I went back in-house at a magazine for a couple years, and we were in the middle of renovating the Victorian. We also said then that we wanted to do another big event—at some point, down the line…—and that we’d consider taking on a big challenge in the future if we had the right venue and partner. It would take a few years to find both.
preparing for the opening introductions at KEEN with Tod Roadarmel (Omni Hotels), Mayor Karl Dean and Butch Spyridon (Visit Music City CEO) in 2012
What was born out of KEEN, though, was Media Grits: a networking group of Nashville-based marketing and media professionals in the hospitality and tourism sectors, many of them volunteers from the conference and cheerleaders for KEEN. Our monthly meetings spawned dozens of friendships, many new jobs and countless work contracts and collaborations among participants, and just an all-around great group of humans. For nearly six years, we met every single month at a different bar and restaurant around Nashville. This was something that was at no cost to attendees—well, unless you count their bar bills at each happy hour—and something I spent my time putting together for free just because I love building community and providing others a safe space for networking with no underlying motives. Several suggested I turn Media Grits into something bigger, but that was never my intention … at the time.
And then Franklin came along
Nearly two years ago, SVV and I were down in Alabama with a few Franklin-based industry friends serving as panelists on a talk about influencer marketing for the Public Relations Council of Alabama. It was an excellent event, so polished and well-done. Afterwards, we all went to lunch and were casually discussing how we wished such an event took place in our home state. Because you see, Tennessee has nothing like this: no great media event, nothing for networking for those of us working on either side of tourism marketing, whether PR or travel writers. Our Governor’s Conference on hospitality and tourism is mediocre at best, and all the other big organizations like PRSA or SATW tend to hold their meetings in West Coast locales. So I told the group about KEEN, not thinking anything about it. But as the months passed, the group kept discussing the concept via email, text and over happy hours, and suddenly it occurred to all of us that we—being Odinn Media, the marketing production company SVV and I co-own—could create such an event in Tennessee with Franklin as our home base.
And so Media Grits: The Conference was born
Since fall 2018, we’ve been meeting regularly with the team at Visit Franklin to brainstorm what such a conference would look like since they’re the experts on Williamson County and had so many great ideas in addition to our own on how we could fill a void in our industry, providing both networking and professional development for more advanced-level media and marketing professionals in an intimate environment.
It took us nearly nine months to nail down a venue, mainly because our dream spot was not yet open so we couldn’t tailor our conference to it. Our idea had always been to cap the conference at 250: big enough so every attendee has the networking opportunities to make the trip to Tennessee worthwhile, while small enough so every attendee is able to make those important face-to-face connections.
And then the Harpeth Hotel opened. This gorgeous property is going to be our host venue, and if all goes as we hope, the permanent home of Media Grits for years to come. If you missed out last month, we were some of the first guests to stay in the Harpeth when it debuted as Franklin’s first downtown hotel, and from the moment we took our first hard hat tour some months ago, we knew it was the perfect space for an event.
With 119 rooms and a ballroom capacity of 252, this means we can take over the entire hotel for our event—so essentially, we’ll have the run of the place—and that attendees who choose to also stay at the hotel can have the added bonus of networking with others in the off-hours. The Harpeth Hotel also has a coffee shop, bar, a courtyard, a patio, a restaurant, living room, and several small nooks and seating areas that are perfect for one-on-one conversations with peers or potential clients. It’s basically what I as an attendee have wanted out of other conferences in the past that were, instead, housed in gigantic hotels where you’re just one of thousands.
It’s pet-friendly, too, as is downtown Franklin as a whole, for those of you who don’t like to leave your pup behind!
We also have some really fun after-hours events planned that are all included in the ticket, plus an optional Dine Around Franklin night on the opening night, so attendees on both sides of the coin, DMO and media, will get the chance to have real conversations over food and wine in a less formal setting.
And let’s just talk about the city for a minute. If you haven’t been to Franklin, you are in for a treat! Just 25 miles—and an easy Lyft or Uber ride—from the Nashville airport, Franklin is known for having one of the best-preserved Main Streets in America, not to mention a whole lot of whiskey and a great culinary scene to boot. Even better, the Harpeth is located on Main Street, so you’ll be able to explore the town in between sessions (or stay the weekend after if you prefer).
What to expect from Media Grits
We’ve started rolling out speaker announcements via our Facebook page, so that’s a good account to follow to learn more about the make-up of this event. You can also subscribe to our newsletter where we’ll be sending out conference updates as they occur. The speaker roster is a mix of veteran journalists, tourism pros, publicists, marketing ninjas. The conference will kick off with the opening keynote on the afternoon of Wednesday, Aug. 5 and conclude with a closing party on Friday night, Aug. 7; that way, if you want to stick around and explore Franklin for the weekend, your work will be done! We’ll also have a few optional pre-conference workshops on videography, food styling and podcasting available for booking for those who want intermediate to advanced training in more specific areas.
We opened ticket sales last week, and there are 200 spots available for sale: 100 for media and 100 for industry, meaning publicists, agencies, CVBs and travel brands. The other 50 tickets have been reserved for our speakers and sponsors. But here’s the catch: What so many of our CVB clients have lamented about other media events and blogger conferences is that they’re not advanced enough; they’re full of novice writers or bloggers who are just starting off and there to learn, which is great, but not necessarily the kind of event tourism marketers looking to partner with advanced content creators are seeking. Media Grits is not that.
We are an intermediate to advanced level conference—no “how to start a blog” kind of content, but rather deep dives into timely topics like nefarious social media activity, online sleuthing, analytics, holistic and multi-channel branding, harnessing event partnerships, working with tourism boards, etc—that caters to those who have been in the industry since before Instagram gobbled up the mental bandwidth of the trade. Thus, all media slots are invite-only based on a writer or content creator’s longevity in the industry and body of work.
That said, obviously we don’t know every qualified journalist and content creator, so if you’re a writer who is interested in attending, you can still apply here. Our team will be going through every application individually and adding qualified applicants to the invite list until the slots are full.
Once you’ve bought your ticket, you’ll be invited to an exclusive online community via Facebook so you can get to know fellow attendees before you arrive in Franklin. That will be moderated by our community manager, Tabitha Tune of A La Mode Media, who also built our website. I’ll also be chiming in here and there, and we’ll of course share all conference updates in that group, in addition to via the newsletter.
For CVBs, DMOs and travel brands, we have a limited amount of marketplace networking booths, sponsorship opportunities and also party host options. If you’re interested you can email me or connect through the website contact form and I’ll get you what you need.
So there you have it: One of the big things we’ve been working on for the past year (but not the only big thing we’re working on for 2020!). Did you ever think we’d take on such an event again?
And have you ever attended a travel media and marketing conference? What makes or breaks such an event for you?