Ibiza Super Summit – Post-mortem

5 months ago

What’s it like to organise an agency business conference in Ibiza? Here’s the feedback – good and bad – that we got from the Ibiza Super Summit 2023

Ian Harris

Director, Agency Hackers

Contents

Behind the Beat: Unpacking Our Ibiza Conference

The event culminated in a sunset boat party with a DJ and a saxophonist.

In September 2023 we held the first Agency Hackers Ibiza Super Summit. It was a two-day conference for agency leaders in Santa Eulalia, Ibiza. We had 100 people buy tickets and we sold out a couple of months before the event.

In this post I’ll share the good, the bad and the ugly: what we got right, what we got wrong, and how we’re going to improve this event in 2024 and beyond.

This is the first time we have done this – and we learned a lot.

Overall feedback

We kicked off with Rob Mayhew interviewing Carrie Rose about her journey. She was incredibly candid and set a fantastic tone for the rest of the event.

We think the event was overall a success, but people suggested lots of things we could improve next year.

  • 39 people gave us feedback
  • The scores ranged from 6-10 and the average score was 8.9 out of 10
  • 25 people gave the event the maximum 10 out of 10
  • Some people were more critical: two gave it 6 out of 10, and one person gave it 7 out of 10

We’ll get to the juicy ‘stuff we got wrong’ part. But overall, people did seem to have a great time and most told us they loved it.

Interestingly, I very nearly didn’t ask for feedback. All week at the Ibiza Super Summit people kept telling me how great it was. “Look around! Soak it up! You did this!” I felt like a saturated sponge, utterly loaded with compliments.

Why get feedback? They love it!

Of course, that’s never the full story. People who don’t love it generally don’t put their arm around your shoulder and confess all the reasons they aren’t having a good time.

So after the event, we asked for feedback. And I’m glad we did because people obliged!

Vision: Give Agency Leaders a Chance to Escape

The rooftop conference area overlooking the sea had a lovely energy. People relaxed straight away.

First though, why did we do this thing?

Keith Richards said that when he writes a song he feels there is an enormous gap waiting to be filled. Like the song should have been written hundreds of years ago.

With apologies to Keith, I feel the same way about Ibiza Super Summit. I’m surprised this hasn’t been done before.

One attendee sums it up:

“It was an absolutely fabulous event, to the point where I can’t actually believe it’s not been thought of before. I made loads of new friends, lots of new contacts, potential new business. It has so much going for it, I’m surprised nobody has done it.”
(Simon Douglass, Curated)

I had the idea one night when I was on my second glass of wine.

“The only stuff I ever go to now is for work.” (Sip)

“Hey – what if I somehow made Ibiza my work?” (Another sip)

The idea was basically: let’s give agency leaders an excuse to escape. Most people who own or run an agency businesses have overwhelming responsibility:

  • You have started this business that now demands your constant attention.
  • You also have a family that probably thinks you spend too long on the business, and sometimes wishes you’d just go back to having a ‘normal job’.
  • You have needy clients who don’t really understand they’re just one ball that you’re juggling.
  • You have team who want to be treated like adults – but also think you’re their parent too.

Wouldn’t it be cool if – every year – we gave you an excuse to escape all that and mix with other agency leaders who ‘get it’? And wouldn’t it be even cooler if it really WAS a genuine business thing?

Rob Mayhew was a popular draw, and he kindly promoted the event with one of his viral videos

As it turns out, this insight was pretty on the money. People told us that indeed, this was exactly the excuse they needed to get away.

For example, privately I was aware of several people going through marriage failures, having major problems with their teenage children, falling out with their co-founders, or just running businesses that were soaring or sinking or anything in between.

Some people had not had a holiday for six years. For some of the women agency owners in particular, this was their first chance to escape their young children! Getting away and letting your hair down with likeminded friends was just what they needed.

Oh – and you can put it all through your business!

So, what did we learn? Let’s get into it.

The venue mostly worked (but wasn’t perfect)

Agency Hackers Ibiza
I asked Carrie Rose from Rise at Seven if she’d speak a year in advance and she said yes. She even brought her mum with her!

We held the conference at Aguas de Ibiza, a fancy hotel in Santa Eulalia. It has a stunning rooftop conference room that opens up onto an infinity pool and bar.

In many ways it was perfect. In the breakout sessions, people drifted off onto the terrace to relax into their conversations. I saw one group where everyone was dangling their feet in the infinity pool while they discussed the future of their agencies.

The problem for me as a conference organiser was, this venue wasn’t entirely set up for a conference.

For example, there were little things that made me stressed:

  • The conference room also happened to be home to a very loud industrial fridge containing all the hotel’s wine. The bottles were chilling and jiggling and making a chuffin’ racket. I had to negotiate with them to turn it off.
  • There was a migraine-inducing buzz whenever the microphones were turned on. This does happen sometimes at venues, and basically the only way to solve it is to fiddle with the knobs until it goes away. The problem was – the venue wouldn’t let me fiddle with the knobs! The knobs were in a secret box in a hidden room that only a special man was allowed to fiddle with. And this knob-fiddler seemed to have a lot of other duties around the hotel, and was not especially easy to summon.

So that was a bit stressful.

Ultimately though, the venue was the right choice for our first conference. Capacity wise, 100 was definitely the most we could accommodate so I’m very glad I resisted the temptation to continue selling tickets past that point.

We loved Aguas de Ibiza, but since next year we plan to go a bit bigger, we will need to find a new venue.

People mostly liked the ‘vibe’…

We always have a nice, friendly audience of ‘serious’ agency folk and Ibiza Super Summit was no exception

People always say we have a great atmosphere at our events. The other agency leaders you meet at Agency Hackers events tend to be friendly, and are generally quite humble even though they do skew towards the successful end of the agency spectrum.

A lot of agency leader events still don’t attract many women for some reason, but we always get a good mix. (This event was roughly 50/50).

This was typical of the comments:

“There is a lovely vibe to the event. Everyone I spoke to was honest and transparent, sharing the highs and lows of agency ownership and leadership. This doesn’t happen by accident – as anyone who has been to other agency networking groups will attest, where everyone’s first impulse appears to be to tell everyone else how wildly successful they are. The Agency Hackers team need to take credit for the environment they’ve created, through content marketing tone of voice and how the conference was positioned.”

…but people’s ‘hedonism thermostat’ settings varied

I know this looks like a stock photo, but it’s actually the sunset on the first night taken by our photographer Neil

There’s a good reason why running an agency conference in Ibiza is a novel idea: it’s very hard to make sure everyone gets what they’re expecting.

Ibiza has always been all things to all people. But a consistent theme in the feedback is that some people felt the conversations in the event’s WhatsApp group were either hard to keep up with, or were overwhelmingly hedonistic.

The spirited surroundings invited different interpretations of unwinding during our downtime, shall we say. Reading between the lines, I think a few people felt a bit left out in parts.

So next year we will will do a better job of putting the right appetites together.

This is quite an important lesson that I learned. It’s super-easy to think everyone’s super-happy, because the people who are super-happy make a lot of super-happy noises. You have to really stop and think: who have I not heard from, and how are they finding it?

People want help finding things to do in the evening

Holding the event in Ibiza gave it a “wow factor” that helps us secure recognisable speakers, like Dan and Lloyd from Knowlton Marketing

This part is sort of the answer to the above part.

People were pretty chuffed to have their photo taken with Rob Mayhew on the opening night drinks.

When we were planning this event, I wasn’t sure if we should also curate the evenings. So we took a laissez-faire approach to the evenings – by which I mean, we largely left people to it.

From the feedback, I’m not sure everybody was able to fall into a group like we hoped – so next time we’ll change this.

I mean, to a large extent they did. But the people who wanted to go ‘hard and fast’ definitely found it much easier to snap together and book club tickets, while the people who wanted to take it a bit easier and explore bars and restaurants and kind of see where the wind took them found it harder to assemble.

Point. Very. Much. Taken.

Next year, we’ll curate this much more. To bring this to life, here’s what some people said:

  • “I’d have loved some more chilled / refined evening options that we could opt into, or help get organised. I had a lovely meal on Weds eve, but it happened through sheer luck.”
  • “Personally I think it would have been good to have had some organised evening options, at least for the first night. It felt a bit of a lucky dip as to who you had spoken to or which hotel you were at as to which crowd you fell into.”
  • “I appreciate that Agency Hackers isn’t accountable for our every waking minute, but the evening times felt a little bit random and those of us who went on our own had to scramble to find like-minded people to tag along with… It would have been brilliant to have a little guidance so that groups of people could meet up each evening… depending on the type of night they were wanting.”

This is really useful feedback, and we’ll absolutely do this next year.

Our scheduling was not perfect

This looks like a stock photo, but it isn’t! Here’s our group doing yoga with Adriana on day one.

A very common feedback was the scheduling, particularly around the early-morning activities.

People made two points:

  1. If you did the sunrise hikes or the sunrise yoga, you missed part of the morning’s conference
  2. We should start day two later to account for people’s nightlife

Originally we weren’t actually going to provide any ‘wellness stuff’. But people kept buying tickets who told me they didn’t really drink, and they also kept muttering these two syllables: “Yo-ga.”

So I thought, ‘Yikes!’ and arranged for local businesses to run sunrise walks and sunrise yoga.

The timing was difficult in the context of running a conference. The key word here is ‘sunrise’ which – in Ibiza in late September – is 7.40am. Because the yoga and the hikes kicked off very early (you had to be in the hotel lobby for 7am) I knew they would be quite niche so I didn’t want to delay the start of the conference just for the people doing those.

My initial view was: they were getting an extra experience that was like an extra conference track.

Here’s a photo from the sunrise walk. They all stood and watched the sun come up in silence.

In the end, this wasn’t really seen that way though – and there was complication around breakfast and shower times.

So, ugh, I basically got that wrong.

In future we’ll just make sure they don’t clash.

We should probably start a bit later anyway?

When the conference kicked off on day two at 10am, we were still quite thin on the ground. (Not everybody’s Wednesday night activities were compatible with our Thursday morning schedule, shall we say.)

The WhatsApp group was useful (but we need to segment it)

Rooftop bars will be a staple of our Ibiza events I think.

Surprisingly, one of the defining features of the event turned out to be the WhatsApp group. We added all the participants to a group so we could communicate with them on the island.

I only thought of this the week before. But it became great for creating a community spirit. The chatter started the Sunday before the event and is still going now.

Much of the squawking was people arranging where to meet and where go to out. At any time – day or night – you could track what people were doing across the island.

One of the smartest decisions I made was to set the messages to expire after 7 days. Had I not done that, some people would likely be crossing out a future political career.

Some people said they felt overwhelmed by the WhatsApp group and found it hard to keep up.

Next time, we’ll have multiple WhatsApp groups – one for official communications from us (“The boat leaves at 3pm”), one for social arrangements, and possibly a ‘NSFW one’ that you enter at your own risk!

Next year we’ll double the event in size (which, weirdly, will make it more intimate?)

As you can see, this endeavour was slightly more complex than the original “hilarious idea” I came up with. We are running an event in another country, using venues we have not worked with before, and taking on a fair amount of financial risk.

We’ll never get it perfect, but if we keep listening to feedback and improving it every year, I’d like it to become an annual landmark in the calendar. You might not come every year, but I want it to be always there for you in the calendar as an option to escape.

It was cool to look around and see famous faces like Carrie Rose chatting casually to the Knowlton brothers

We want to grow the event so we can invest more in it, and also so that we can do a better job of segmenting the audience. We want enough people there so you can find people at your stage of growth (or in your sector) to compare notes with.

I’d like to get to the point where it’s like SXSW or MadFest and we take over part of the island every year.

(Interestingly, Ibiza doesn’t actually have any huge venues. There are rumours that Privilege, the island’s biggest nightclub with a 10,000 capacity – which closed in 2020 – is due to reopening as a conference venue.)

The boat also came with a saxophone player

Next year we are moving to the Ibiza Gran Hotel, one of the island’s best hotels. It has great conference facilities and can hold 200 people. (It can fit more, but one the ‘hallmarks’ of Agency Hackers is that we always use round tables so so delegates can speak to each other.)

Holding the event in Ibiza Town will give us more diverse evening options. Whether you want clubs, bars, restaurants or a Old Town we can put you together with people who also fancy that option.

Other interesting and unexpected things we learned

  • People brought their partners. We did not expect people would do this. But it was nice! Next time we’re planning to involve them in some way, too. (One attendee said that his wife being able to hear stories from other founders helped her to understand the pressures and challenges he faces. “This alone was very powerful.”)
  • Wristbands. People wanted a way to identify other delegates at the airport, and around Ibiza. We’ll figure out some way of doing this. Maybe special lanyards?
  • Free holiday. A lot treated it as a way to put a holiday through their company. One person said: “If I get anything from this conference that’s actually a bonus.” Obviously, it’s very dangerous for us to take that on board. Most people will obviously always expect a conference run to a very high standard. But it does kind of underscore the idea has quite strong fundamentals.
  • Social media halo effect. We couldn’t keep up with the buzz on LinkedIn about this event. Attendees shared photos and updates which drove a lot of new followers to our page. Running this event put us on the map like no other event we’ve done before.

Honestly, had a blast it was so much fun. The social element was the highlight – it really brought everyone together in an “organic” rather than forced way (which can often happen at a typical conference).

Georgia Branch, We Create Popular

Do not build Homer’s car

One thing I’m always conscious of when taking feedback is not ending up with Homer’s Car.

Try not to build Homer’s car when you listen to feedback

In The Simpsons, Homer is asked to design a car to appeal to the ‘average’ American. He creates one with gigantic cupholders, shag carpeting, and three horns. (“You can never find a horn when you’re mad.”) It’s a huge flop.

One of the things people said was that we should vary the location.

  • Maybe the event should not be in Ibiza, but in an equally sunny – but less notorious – location?
  • Maybe the event should change every year? Marbella is nice?
  • Maybe we should do a ski trip?

These are decent ideas, but there’s just something ridiculous and immediately evocative about the idea of running a business conference in Ibiza. Everyone I mention it so has an immediate reaction to it. Their face either lights up, or they recoil in horror.

So we’re going to keep it simple: we’ll be back next year in Ibiza, and hopefully every year from now on.

If you’d like to join us next year, here’s the link. I hope you enjoyed reading this. The main thing that I wanted you to take away from this post-mortem is that we’re deeply interested in making this event the best it can be, so if you do make it out to Ibiza with us you’ll make new friends, get inspired to do all the things you have in your head, and have an experience you’ll remember for the rest of your life.

Here are some photos…

One difficulty marketing this event for the first time was that we didn’t have any photos because it hadn’t happened yet. The only images we had were stock photos of Ibiza. So we brought Neil Stoddart out, our favourite photographer. He did an excellent job capturing the event – he went above and beyond for us, going on the hikes and throwing his drone into the air on the boat party (which the captain wasn’t happy with apparently!) Here’s some of his photos – the full set is here: https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/14Itcx7cmc1waw-bbJWicIxcMimo7SyUY?usp=sharing

Join 3,000+ agencies

Get the Agency Hackers Newsletter, and read candid stories from other agency leaders.