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Reclaiming the M Word

Pushing the future
By CHRIS FARAONE  |  September 7, 2011


In an ad age where even grandma showcases her swag and status, "marketing" is no longer a dirty word. Evil sociologists and PR dingbats aren't the only people pushing products — and here in Boston, one of the season's most anticipated summits is even named after the M word.

With more than 60 parties and events planned for next week, the Future M "intellectual marketing mash-up" will attract more than 2000 curious minds and innovators from every corner of the local business landscape and beyond. Organized by the 15-year-old Massachusetts Innovation & Technology Exchange (MITX) — a New England consortium tooled to connect "online and offline realities" — the conference will reflect the accomplishments of companies from Worcester to Waltham, many of which are hosting presentations.

"We're technically a trade association, but I don't think that [label] has a whole lot of meaning anymore," says MITX president Debi Kleiman, a Harvard Business School grad who formerly held positions at Coca-Cola and the Watertown-based Communispace. Kleiman says MITX and Future M are "connection points for the digital marketing and media industries," established to facilitate new-school networking and resource sharing. "In Boston we have everyone from students to advertising agencies and technologists — but if all that stuff happens in a silo, then it won't create the end result that everybody wants."

MITX hosts powwows throughout the year to bring established leaders like Hill Holliday closer to young vanguards like HubSpot, a Cambridge-based marketing-software company. But Future M is the exchange's Super Bowl, attracting heads from around the world to witness firsthand the wealth of New England tech invention. The region is home to hundreds of mobile, social-media, and marketing start-ups, with more coming every week; according to Kleiman, these increasingly interrelated industries unite at Future M, which boasts bi-disciplinary offerings such as "Strategies for Captivating Customers and Extending Brand Value Across Digital Channels."

"Greater Boston is a hub for companies that are creating entirely new ways of engaging with consumers," says Kleiman. She cites the Waltham-based Constant Contact — a trusted resource for e-mail marketers worldwide — as an example of a MITX pioneer, and says the association has helped bridge such services with old-guard commonwealth companies. "These businesses are breaking down barriers, bringing consumers in, and developing relationships in ways that have completely shifted the world of market research."

Of course, boundaries are best blurred over food and drinks. To that end, Future M features events like the "Brew Off Party & Beer Tasting" at Work Bar and "Tacopocalypse!" at the Rattlesnake. Boston may be at the forefront of the digital frontier, but Kleiman says it's now especially important to encourage face-to-face connections. That sentiment certainly came through two weeks ago, when more than 200 Future M registrants convened at the House of Blues for a barroom brainstorm. In addition to the usual exchange of business cards, musical MITX members — most of whom had never played together — jammed until the free booze ran dry.

"There's at least one party every night, if not two or three," says Kleiman. Future M, she adds, gives everyone from college prodigies to major CEOs an opportunity to rap ideas on equal footing. "We're excited to help create this hub in Boston, and to help retain those who are already here while attracting new talent from elsewhere. We're trying to shine a spotlight on what's going on, and to get the word out that, if you care about marketing innovation, then you need to come to Boston."

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