On October 5th , TEDxKotor wll once again bring attention to the UNESCO site of Old Town Kotor in Montenegro. The organizing team will be bringing in speakers from across the globe to speak on a variety of ideas which they are passionate and want to share with others. The theme for this year’s event is “Reaching for the Stars”

What are TED talks? 

TED is an organization committed to spreading great ideas. It began in 1984 with a conference bringing together topics from technology, design, and entertainment. Today, it has grown to host a much wider variety of topics, yet still maintains its purpose of spreading great ideas. 

What began as one conference has morphed into a variety of venues in niche fields such as science, education, and locally organized talks known as TEDx events.  

How does TEDx fit in?

TEDx events are live, local gatherings to engage local communities with diverse ideas TED-like talks. These events are valuable for introducing diverse content which is also bias free. They are uniquely developed based on each local organizer, but share the same format. 

 These local events are not organized for religious or political purposes. They are not to be driven by commercial purposes to raise money even for charities. They are not marketing conferences. TEDx events are to be driven by diversity in content and bringing together a variety of ideas for building up the local community. 

Why TEDxKotor?

 I was not able to attend TEDxBudva last year. It was the first TEDx event on the coast of Montenegro. Of all TEDx events in Montenegro, I heard so many positive remarks about what happened in Budva. I am trusting the organizing team will double their efforts to make this one even more exciting and thought provoking. 

 The speaker list looks dynamic. The variety of topics coming to the stage has the potential to make this be a true TED event and get people talking about ideas. Here are the speakers I am looking forward to the most, but that’s not to say others will not deliver as well. 

 Piotor Prokopowicz

Piotor is an academic, speaker, and practicioner in the worlds of leadership and innovation. He’s been featured in publications such as Fast magazine and Harvard Business Review and has lead a variety of organizations including… a punk band. 

“As an internationally acclaimed speaker, he engages audiences by educating them about leadership myths, innovation, evidence-based management, and methods for building a smarter and happier workplace.” 

José Woldring

“José started her PR agency, The Media Nanny when she was 22 while studying at the university. Ten years later and The Media Nanny has become one of the biggest PR agencies in the world of entertainment, especially in EDM. José has been working closely with the biggest names in the EDM world such as Martin Garrix and David Guetta, taking care of their international magazine covers, online covers, radio, and TV appearances.” 

Ranier Hoess

Ranier uses the lessons of history and the mistakes of his family, including a grandfather who served as commandant of Auschwitz Concentration Camp during World War II, to educate people on the outcomes of hatred. He is part of the Footsteps team who are “dedicated to challenging all forms of hatred and intolerance. 

I am also excited to hear from Fabian Dittich and Vladimir Vulic. Fabian’s experience as a nomad and living untied to place. Vladimir’s experience in leading organizations and discussing digital transformation has been vital internationally and locally in Montenegro.  

You can view the full agenda to decide how to plan your day, but I recommend making a day out of it.

Kaktus Festival - An environment for ideas

This is the first year I'll be attending  the Integrated Communications Festival also known as Kaktus Festival, but probably not the last. The reason why I decided to come this year, apart from an invitation, is the huge number of recommendations I got from friends and colleagues. In a time of tech centered communication and “reach”, word-of-mouth marketing may still hold the most powerful influence, today. Besides that, I was promised to get the best coffee during the breaks engaging with some brilliant minds in the marketing world while doing so. 

What is Kaktus Festival? 

This is Kaktus Festival’s 5thyear to explore topics in marketing that will raise industry standards. The name “Kaktus” (cactus) was chosen because of the harsh conditions that a cactus will endure, and with the smallest bit of water will survive and grow. The goal of the conference is to be that impetus for ideas of the attendees to grow and thrive as well. 

The theme for this year’s festival is “Make Room For A New Bloom” focusing on talent and innovation inside and outside of the advertising world. Emphasizing such a theme will help open new angles and generate new ideas that we can watch break through industry standards. This year the festival will focus on those campaigns that go beyond the obvious and inspire something new. 

 Kaktus Festival will take place on October 29-30 at the Madlenianum Opera and Theater in Belgrade, Serbia. 

 Who should attend #Kaktus2019? 

Anyone desiring to build their business, learn about marketing, explore new skills, and/or grow their network. As I mentioned before, conferences are very valuable when it comes to expanding a carrier, but Kaktus Festival delivers a lot more. With the additional stage dedicated to startups and entrepreneurs, young people get the chance to present themselves and join the regional startup network.

Specifcally, here are three types of people who should attend and why.

The Creative - Creativity starts when fear fades.

We learn how to be creative, it's not something you're born with. There are many ways how to start, but I recommend reading books, exploring unrelated skills, travelling and meeting new people. Stepping out of your comfort zone means doing something you are afraid of every day. Most people are not comfortable going to conferences alone and being pushed to talk to strangers. Maybe it doesn't make sense to you, but creativity grows where fear disappears. 

The Learner - Talk about the right things in the right way.

Marketing and advertising trends change quickly and to stay relevant, you need to update yourself constantly. Festivals like Kaktus provide tremendous opportunities to connect with people, including industry-leading experts like Emanuelle Nenna, Giorgio Chiarmonte, Regan Warner. When attending conferences, you can listen to and engage with people one-on-one. You can hear about their current projects and challenges, and some may give you advice on how to enhance your work. You have the opportunity to ask speakers and coaches questions about their work and the basis behind it, which you can't do when reading blog posts or watching a video. 

If your passion is marketing and branding, or you want to run a startup, you can either attend the whole festival or apply for the educational program here. Both avenues provide the perfect opportunity for the learner.  

The Forward Thinker – See what’s coming next.

Marketing and advertising have always been focused on getting customer's attention using a creative or provocative approach. However, tactics and trends change because the audience will change. Habits and practices change. Today, more than ever, users are bombed with an endless (paid or not) promotions, and it's pretty hard to make them notice our message. The Forward Thinker needs to see what’s coming next and adapt. At Kaktus, we will all learn how to think differently and why it's so important for advertising. 

If you are interested in learning how to think differently, start with the book, Lateral Thinking.

For the fifth consecutive year, the Cactus Festival brings together speakers from the world of marketing and innovation, mentors from the former Yugoslavia and thousands of young and talented people, including future entrepreneurs, innovators, top marketers and enthusiasts who are determined to intent to change the world for the better through their call. The festival is held for two days and the program can be viewed here.

Why I Want To Attend 2019 is a yearly conference taking place on the rugged and beautiful coast of Montenegro. It has become one of the most carefully curated business and internet conferences in Southeast Europe. Over the years, it has attracted a growing following of attendees and industry leading speakers in the fields of branding, marketing, business development, innovation, and startup ecosystems.

The obvious reasons for attending in 2019: 

Networking: Spark brings together professionals from across the spectrum from different industries. A conference this diverse in attendees and speakers allows you to meet new friends, possible new business partners or clients. It gives you as the attendee an opportunity to succeed in growing your business and network. 

Education: Spark provides a unique learning experience. Since the goal of the conference is not to be the biggest, the organizing team designs an experience geared toward learning and developing skills. 

Location: The location of the conference in the past has been amazing. Located just outside of Budva, the conference was held on the sunny coast of Montenegro. This year, the conference is receiving an upgrade by moving to the Bay of Kotor specifically Porto Montenegro in Tivat. The picturesque location serves as the perfect backdrop for a convergence of industry leading minds.

These are the oft repeated reasons for attending, and they do factor heavily into why I attended in the past, and will do so this year again.

(You can still pick up tickets for happening May 25-26.)

However, there are a few more reasons. These are usually what I tell people to really sell them on the experience. 

The real reasons to attend the conference… is a carefully curated experience.

The time and energy that the organizing team puts into not merely running through a checklist to make sure the conference happens, but carefully crafts an experience is evident. The planning happens almost year round. The speakers who are chosen are particularly selected. The stage is thought through from an audience’s perspective. The ambiance is geared toward those attending. is not only a conference, but a designed experience. 

Secret sauce of the organizers…. They care!

The event is put together by a community which cares about the larger community. The beauty of the conference is in the details and attention paid to little things leading up to the conference, during it, and afterwards. 

If you pay attention to social media, you will notice different members of the team connecting with potential attendees and answering questions. During the event, the organizing team give recognition for special days (including birthdays) of attendees and create an experience even for the speakers. They notice the small things because they care. 

The opportunities to meet the right people. 

While we all know that a major reason to go to any conference is for the opportunity to network. However, the offers the opportunity to make sure you are meeting the right people. With a conference planned so closely around the experience it provides, it easily attracts like minded people not only from the immediate Balkan region but from across the globe. In 2018, Spark drew 580 people from 28 countries. This type of diversity in a close setting brings the right people together to make change happen, encourage new ideas, and perfect existing initiatives. 


For Startups, brings the opportunity to pitch and learn from investor coupled with the opportunity to win a trip to be seen in the TechCrunch Disrupt San Francisco 2019 Startup Alley, on October 2-4, 2019.

I’m looking forward to and seeing a community that has welcomed me over the last 5 years. Watching this conference grow from relatively early stages in 2015 until today has been exciting. I look forward to seeing what speakers, the conference will bring to the stage. I can’t wait to see friends that make yearly pilgrimage. And I look forward to making new connections that will undoubtedly last through the coming years. 

If you do visit in May, check out some of these tips on what to do during this time of year.

Brand Building Lessons from Spark.ME

On my birthday in 2015, I found myself walking on stage at the Conference in Budva, Montenegro. A few months prior, I had applied to be an official blogger (I also had purchased a ticket because I didn’t expect to be accepted as a blogger) at a conference I had never attended and only learned about the prior year. I had met some of the organizers over the preceding months, yet there I was receiving a cake and being wished “Happy Birthday!” in spectacular fashion.

I fell in love with a brand because I realized quickly, the people behind it CARE.

What is the Conference?

The conference describes itself as “one of the most carefully curated business/internet conferences in Southeast Europe.” has been organized each year since 2013 as part of the Corporate Social Responsibility program of Domain.ME

While it may not be the biggest conference, I am certain it is one of the most intimate conferences allowing the participants close access and networking opportunities with leaders, pioneers, and top thinkers in the realms of marketing, tech, startups, and entrepreneurship.

(You may also find an astronaut or cyborg roaming around…)

Since I love this brand(-ed event), here are a few brand building lessons I learned over the 4 years of attending the conference. 

Be personable.

“We can’t love a logo. We love a person.” Mark Schaefer

Brand building is founded on connection and relationships with our audience. We tell stories that allow people to love and trust our brands. Mark Schaefer, a globally recognized top marketing strategist and speaker, spoke in 2018 about the need for brands to become more personable to succeed in their marketing. Mark spoke about the decline of mass marketing content centered around the digital identity of a company. 

Instead, brands must focus on the community that they are building. Brands must give their customers and audience a story to tell and an experience to share. User generated content and community shared content are some of the best brand building resources out there. It is up to businesses and companies to activate the potential of their audience.

Set yourself apart.

“What are you known for?” Mark Schaefer

During Mark’s talk in 2018, he spoke a bit on personal branding, but hit points that I believe can extend into our businesses. In fact, it is an age old branding lesson. The need to be known for something. The need to differentiate. 

Whether it is a personal brand we are building or our business brand, we need to carefully consider what we want to be known for. Is it already saturated with content, or is there a market to saturate? We find our niche, and focus there with persistence to make our brand known. 

Look Inside.

“It’s a lot easier to change what you say about yourself than changing yourself.” Denise Lee Yohn

Self assessment can be difficult for anyone especially businesses and organizations that see something going wrong, but not sure what it is. Denise Lee Yohn, a brand building expert, recognized that strong, healthy brands are strong and healthy internally first

“Good brands start from within.”  Denise Lee Yohn

The priority of businesses in developing the far reaching brand must be building something special and strong within their own ranks prior to looking outward. Creating hero stories for the employees creates a greater opportunity for hero stories for the customers. In fact, brands have a strong reach because they have strong employee engagement with their brand.

Start at the core.

“Brand values = meaning” Peter Kim

In 2017, Peter Kim, VP of Digital Consumer Engagement at The LEGO Group, spoke about the story and essence of the LEGO brand, and more importantly how great brands make things awesome. They do this by pursuing brand values which bring meaning into the lives of the employee and consumer. 

Much like Denise’s reminder that amazing brands begin from within, Peter emphasized that amazing brands are so because of their values and the meaning those values bring. “In the case of the LEGO Group, their mission is to inspire and develop the builders of tomorrow. Everything they do goes back to children and how to support the children.” 

Collaborate with your community. 

Timo Vuorensola, a Finnish filmmaker well known for films such as Iron Sky and Iron Sky: The Coming Race, has also become known for his achievements in crowdsourcing and crowdfunding his work. During his talk, he discussed both areas heavily and how he was able to leverage the help of the community that bought into his ideas to create something special. 

For brands, the ability to not only engage them as an audience, but then go deeper by collaborating with them moves them into actually being a community. Communities much like families are not necessarily born but forged over time.

As a brand how do you collaborate with your community to create greater success and draw them deeper into your brand story?

Be mindful of the process.

“Show up! Follow up! Close!” Steli Efti

To say Steli Efti is high energy is an understatement, but with that energy he can deliver so much value in such a short time. He has been launching companies and building brands since the age of 17. He is currently the CEO of

In 2015, Steli forced his audience to think about the basics. He challenged those around him by acknowledging the solutions to their problems are known, but not convenient. In the end, solutions are left undone. 

One challenge brands face is consistency and follow through. Steli points out that when startups and brands show up, follow up, and deliver, they will win. It’s a day to day process, but it forces consistency by the brand. In today’s media savvy world that disseminates information quickly, being inconsistent once can kill the brand. 2019

This year the organizing team has already made some exciting announcements! 2018 saw the conference surpass new heights in participants and interest. This year the conference will move to a larger venue in Porto Montenegro in Tivat!

The conference is not only about the keynotes and speakers. It also includes being a part of a transformative and engaging community. Tickets have gone on sale. I recommend grabbing your friends, team, or business partners and become a part of the community in 2019! 

Experience and experience Montenegro!

(For tips about what to explore in Montenegro in May check out my post here. And let me know you’re coming.)