Like so many events across the Sheffield City Region and the UK, March’s Sheffield DM meeting had to be cancelled due to COVID-19.

But while the ever-growing event was attracting more and more digital marketers, it’s not hard to see why event founders, Evoluted’s Ash Young and Giorgio Cassella, are very excited about next week’s first online event on May 14.

Because while unable to host the meet-up at regular venue The Sheffield Tap because of social spaces closing their doors during lockdown, the wonders of technology actually mean that the digital doors will be opening up to many more. Thanks to YouTube LIVE streaming and people watching the event afterwards via YouTube video, the event can broadcast to many more ‘guests’ than could ever have been welcomed offline.

The duo’s passion for digital marketing drove them to set up Sheffield DM as a bi-monthly event 18 months ago, aiming to improve and build the city’s digital community.

Ash said: “There wasn’t anything like this in Sheffield at the time and part of the reason I wanted to do this was because other cities have such a vibrant digital scene. We have Sheffield Digital who are a brilliant organisation, but people weren’t really talking about the marketing side here.

We just wanted to get people together to talk digital marketing and nerd out about it!

“There weren’t huge numbers of agencies compared with other cities – if you look at places like Leeds, they’ve got massive agencies that are really active, so we wanted to do something that brought the community together here.

“Giorgio and I both basically had the idea of doing something for the digital community at the same time – he didn’t work for Evoluted at that point, but I spotted a LinkedIn post of his on the subject. I reached out, got in touch, we went for a beer and chatted about what to do – the rest is history!”

Or rather the future – especially with events taking place online during the pandemic, and the potential for many to continue to do so into the era of the ‘new normal’.

Giorgio said: “Sheffield DM was one of our main priorities after I joined Evoluted. I used to organise Start-up Weekend in Sheffield and through that realised there are amazing events in different sectors mainly around technology, but wasn’t anything for me as a marketer to go and engage with people that enjoy the same professional life as me.

“That’s where my desire to set Sheffield DM up came from. Similar to Ash, I felt there’s these great companies around Sheffield but no-one’s bringing them all together and creating a community for them compared with places like Nottingham, Leeds and Manchester.

“We just wanted to get people together to talk digital marketing and nerd out about it!

The biggest thing we’ll learn when we livestream is would people like us to continue doing future DM events in the evening as we have traditionally done or during the day?

“I was incredibly pleased with the first event. It was a lot smaller, about 30-40 people including some of us from Evoluted, but since then it’s grown and the last couple were packed, wall-to-wall events and sold out with 100-120 tickets reserved each time. It’s a fabulous feeling to know we’ve helped a community grow like that.”

Ash agrees: “We were previously getting sign-ups right up to the day of the event. Now we’re selling out two to three weeks before and that’s an amazing feeling – it’s a really nice mix of people including in-house marketers, people from agencies in Sheffield and beyond.

Photo: Paul Reeve

“It shows there’s a lot of demand for this in Sheffield and it has become a mainstay of the scene.”

And now that mainstay has evolved, like many other events, during COVID-19.   

But the event had already been evolving, pre-lockdown. Starting with one speaker and then adding a second, and having networking after the Q&A – “if people are giving up the afternoon or evening we want them to get to know everybody and we want to add value,” says Giorgio.

And while it’s tricky for the pair to select standout speakers due to the high quality at each event, Ash laughs: “It’s been a while since I’ve been to one and not spoken myself! But I really enjoyed John Jackson from Epiphany Search, he delivered a really strong talk on the history of marketing and Edd Wilson from Impression in Nottingham who focused on user-centric SEO.

“They’re the sort of talks we’re really keen to encourage where it’s at intermediate level, for people who’ve got an interest in marketing as well as those who live SEO and marketing day in and day out but who are looking to stretch themselves.”

Giorgio said: “The panel we had in January was excellent, not least because we had Declan Reilly who recently joined Evoluted! And it was nice to have a different format – an interactive panel made a big difference to the first event of the year.”

Speakers at next week’s online event are both from Rise at Seven, with Jess Peace on ‘Have your cake and eat it: How to write content for SEO and PR!’ and Thierry Ngutegure on ‘Proving the value of links – why you should give a f**k about brand!’

We’re always really keen to get stuck in and try things out for ourselves and practice what
we preach.

Says Ash: “Streaming via YouTube LIVE enables everyone in our community to tune in and learn no matter where they are, and most importantly making sure everyone stays safe at home! We can broadcast to far more people than we usually would if we did it in person – not just our local contacts but our networks in Leeds and Nottingham and much further afield.”

Giorgio says: “The biggest thing we’ll learn when we livestream is would people like us to continue doing future DM events in the evening as we have traditionally done or during the day? They could have it running on a separate screen while they’re at work and they can just tune in or it could be a lunchtime event. It’s certainly going to open up some really interesting questions on where we can take Sheffield DM in the future.”

Adds Ash: “Obviously a large part of Sheffield DM is the networking and the community and that’s something we’re keen not to lose especially as it might be a while before we can run an event like this in person again – the next two or three might have to be livestreamed so keeping that community feel going will be really important.”

“Through YouTube LIVE we’ve got a chat channel that’s going to run alongside it,” explains Giorgio, “so if people have questions during the event there’s the text channel for them to do that.

Evoluted’s head of marketing, Giorgio Cassella. Photo: Paul Reeve

“Our team would normally be welcoming guests, but now they’ll be moderators in this chat channel to facilitate discussion and to take questions to ask speakers after and keep that community feel going.

“There are lots of options to explore to facilitate that – people can hop in and out with say a Discord server or we can do a Google Hangout chat…plus everyone’s familiar with doing drinks by Zoom now!”

And how do Ash and Giorgio feel the digital and wider business community have reacted and adapted to lockdown working?

Ash says: “Obviously the digital community out of all industries is best placed to respond – as a company we started working from home overnight essentially with no disruption because we already had that tech in place to do that.

“But it’s been great to see how the community has responded and continued working. It’s also been really good to see how the community has pulled together – Sheffield Digital have been absolutely invaluable in terms of collating and sharing information and support available. They’ve really come to the fore in terms of promoting what you should be doing during the pandemic as well as all the offers of community help and from businesses who have been offering free advice and support.

“Everyone is pulling together and happy to support other companies and a lot are doing it free of charge for good will just to help people. I shared some posts offering free advice about how to move to a digital first way of thinking as a lot of the businesses affected are the ones who work very much offline and suddenly can’t do that.

“The real winners are the ones who have already invested in digital marketing and services and so I’ve been talking to a few about the best way to do it or signposting them to software, video, e-commerce or training tools. Hopefully, I’ve managed to help and make a difference.

Photo: Paul Reeve

“A lot of businesses are doing really well – from this there will be winners and losers. It will be down to how people have reacted and how proactive they’ve been and some companies are sticking their heads in the sand, unfortunately, and hoping it will go away, where others have really doubled down and invested.

“A standout company for me is Shorts Accountants – we don’t use them but I get an email from them regularly telling me what’s changed, the latest government advice, where we can go for funding if needed, successes they’re having and client successes. They’re keeping people updated, offering real value and it builds their brand for the future.”

And what of that future, as we look ahead to the ‘new normal’?

Ash says: “I think a lot of the digital community has been ready for this. A huge part of our team are quite happy working remotely from home but I think coming out of this we will see a bit of a split in terms of which companies go back to office.

“Some are already saying why are we paying for a city centre office space? Why not get a smaller office out of town and be partially remote?’ We are reviewing our plans, too – we’re running out of space in our current office but when we move how much space will we need?

“I’ve had clients video chat who wouldn’t have done before in a million years! So it’s going to change how a lot of business is done as people are now having online meetings. It’s exposed a whole host of people to different ways of working that they would never have done off their own back.

“But it’s important to remember that, when it’s safe to do so, some people will always prefer a face to face meeting or a phone call. The new normal feels very natural to us – for me working this way doesn’t feel very forced at all, other than the kids being at home all day at the moment!

“But that won’t be 100 per cent for everybody – businesses have got to find that right balance.”

Giorgio says: “It’s important that companies don’t make any knee-jerk reactions and decide that this should be the only way of working from now on. It’s working for a lot but we’re only a few weeks in so that’s not a lot of data for companies to simply act on – it’s important to take into account how other people react. For us as a digital agency we already did one day a week working from home, so it’s perfectly normal.

“But some people like being in the office, they like the atmosphere and the separation of work and home and that’s an important element of work for them.”

But while we remain in lockdown, and while planning for next week’s Sheffield DM event, Ash is also being kept busy by another project readers can watch online – recording a video series explaining how to build an e-commerce site.

Photo: Paul Reeve

“At Evoluted we have a real passion for digital and what we do and we run other businesses outside. I started an e-commerce site and grew it to a £2m turnover before selling it, almost as a side project – and I did a talk about that at the Sheffield DM in January!

“Some people make it look like you can spend a couple of hours a week doing it and become a millionaire but obviously that’s not the case. It’s hard work and you have to understand your markets and your products so along with encouraging people to go for it I am sharing the pain points along the way, too!

“It’s a really honest video series which follows the development of the site, the launch, the marketing and the results so people can follow its growth and learn what is and isn’t working.

“We’re always really keen to get stuck in and try things out for ourselves and practice what we preach.”

And clearly, that approach applies at Evoluted – online and offline!

To register for next week’s Sheffield DM on May 14 at 6pm visit www.sheffielddm.co.uk

To read about previous Sheffield DMs visit www.sheffielddm.co.uk/blog

To follow Ash’s e-commerce site journey visit www.webmonkeyash.net/ride-along

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