Remember this time last year when everyone was writing those ‘2020 vision’ LinkedIn pieces? Even the most badly behaved ad exec didn’t think they’d end the year banned from the pub, Soho House and the office Christmas party!

So just before your attention switches to the seasonal routine of watching Only Fools And Horses re-runs, arguing over whether sprouts should ever have a place on a dinner plate and avoiding the Queen’s speech, I thought I’d take a moment to reflect on 2020 and give you a flavour of what’s coming up in 2021.

Whether you’re a brand marketer, agency, publisher, tech firm or event organiser, COVID-19 disruption and uncertainty has caused its fair share of headaches and pivots. MAD//Fest is no exception. We changed our plans and moved fast in 2020 to launch the 99//Club Digital Festival, MAD//Fest x DMEXCO@home and MAD//Anywhere.

The response we had from the industry was incredible. Our community embraced the digital format and our distinctive brand of fast-paced, fact-filled, fun event experiences. 

CMOs from big name brands lent their voice to the conversation and shared big ideas with attendees from 57 different countries. Collaboration became key and we took a ‘just do it’ approach to working in partnership with our friends at DMEXCO and New Digital Age.

Industry legends like Rory Sutherland, Sir Martin Sorrell and Vicki Maguire got behind the MAD//Fest cause adding their incisive commentary and provocative thinking to create some unforgettable moments (check Rory’s Cribs piece, for example).

Meanwhile, I have to thank the host(s) with the most Paul Frampton, Mary Keane-Dawson and Tom Ollerton for their slick studio presenting that’d give Holly and Phil a run for their money. And not forgetting the ad industry’s very own Ant and Dec, Andy Oakes and Justin Pearse.

We teamed up with Defected Records and DMEXCO to live stream a virtual club experience with legendary German dance DJ Mousse T. We took our hugely popular £20k PITCH//IT initiative online by working in partnership with Diageo, McCormick and Co:Cubed to connect the freshest start-ups and global brands.

2020 was a steep learning curve for all. Our events morphed into pseudo TV shows, we had to re-invent the MAD//Fest experience and we experimented with some logistically bonkers content formats (the 99 second format for the 99//Club springs to mind!).

Of course some things worked better than others but what’s the point of doing the same thing as everyone else? 

What did all of this achieve? 

In 2020, we had 317 speakers, 93 sponsors + 7,342 attendees across 3 virtual events. Aside from this, people tuning into our virtual events, checking out our digital content and spending their precious marketing budget kept us alive, ticking and relevant. I’d like to express our heartfelt thanks to everyone who did their bit.

Looking forward to live

As much as we’ve developed a new-found love of digital events that will inform our future ‘hybrid’ approach, we’re all eagerly anticipating the return of live events. Vaccination programmes are being rolled out and the idea of travelling around central London is no longer an alien concept.

It’s been our busiest ever December for bookings by a country mile with tech giants and start-ups alike embracing a summer al fresco MAD//Fest London on 7-8 July in a huge Shoreditch car park.

The MAD//Anywhere format has gained huge traction globally as a place where the industry’s change makers, innovators and decision makers discover ideas, tech and new partners. We can’t wait to be back in the studio on 10-11 March, the date of our next MAD//Anywhere event, which has the theme ‘Forward’.

And as the US waves goodbye to the madness of Trump, there’s a new brand of madness in town as we MAD//Fest stateside in November next year.

2021 will no doubt have more twists and turns in its plot than an Eastenders Christmas Day whodunnit, but I’m pleased to end the year by saying MAD//Fest is emerging from 2020 stronger. So be safe, enjoy a well-earned rest and embrace the (virtual) festivities – we’ll see you on the other side for a better, bigger and madder 2021!