Commentary

Ad:Tech: Finally Some Good News

I'm glad I made it to Ad:Tech this year. Cindi Gallucci and her band of conference drivers at JDEvents do a great job. Despite the occasional face not matching the name in the program, everything seemed to be as smooth as could be, right down to the venue, which was fantastic.

There's much good news in our industry, as even readers of the heretofore skeptical New York Times and Wall Street Journal are learning. How about this nugget - Ad:Tech was a sellout this year, with more than twice the attendees of the Los Angeles show just last year. Of course, just because a well-run conference is sold out, that doesn't mean that panelists will do the right thing and actually prepare something other than a sales pitch. To her credit, Ms. Gallucci actually wrote an email to all panelists after day one to tell them to get on the stick and quit selling on the dais. Good for her.

I can never understand why people at trade shows - and it certainly isn't just in our trade - shill like that on the stump. Here you are, in front of perhaps a few hundred of your peers, a few dozen prospects, absolutely a competitor or two, and you have an opportunity to appear magnanimous and above it all, while maybe providing some entertaining information and an iconic fact or two just to make the audience remember you. But again and again, panelists here have been delivering their "unique" sales pitches; some (zzzz) delivered via text-heavy PowerPoint slides.

The best irony in all of this to me is that these individuals have been selected because they are the best, no? Shouldn't they know better? Also ironic is that fact that so few of them seem willing to discuss what has NOT worked for their companies, even though that's where the real learning is, and also how they could differentiate (and humanize) themselves and their companies without a direct sales pitch.

I guess those thoughts could seem to reflect a Pollyanna view, but I'm hoping that the Web advertising recovery that we're all enjoying is a sustainable one, and that the lessons from a few years back will stick. A harbinger of that might be fewer people complaining about the lack of "sizzle" in the exhibits and more people noticing that the companies here actually MAKE MONEY. Nutty, huh?

I hope nobody is surprised that the way these companies are doing so well has to do primarily with their ability to identify where the pain is for their would-be clients, and then tailor solutions for these clients. Gone are the bloated, VC-funded companies that had to charge more for specious value, replaced by small, independent companies that relay on relationships to gather their prospects. I heard it loud and clear at the last panel I attended, titled: Convincing Senior Management That Online Marketing Works. Can't reach the CMO of the company you've targeted? Try someone you know who knows his/her director. Don't keep calling or badgering people. Find out their pain point and craft a solution for them in a neat, relevant product that tells them that you have done your research and can hit the ground running.

A great example of an AdTech attendee who has built a sustainable business along these most basic tenets is Jesse Poppick, who is Partner at Ad Operations Interactive in that great hi-tech corridor of Missoula Montana. From his days at Real Media, Jesse built a great many relationships that he continues to leverage as he builds his Ad Operations' business around clients like Salon, Forbes.com, eHealthcare, Integrent Media and others. But the big thing for him is staying independent so that he can remain as responsive as his business dictates. It's all fine and well that we claim our medium's effectiveness is backed by hard data. But, how many of you reading this can make the huge streams of data that come from every campaign into actionable insights? I know that I can't. It's the "grunts" in the Web marketing nexus that are the mortar upon which our industry is being built. And mortar cannot be laid too quickly, less the bricks don't sit properly (see April 2000).

"It's a whole lot easier to spend other people's money. Part of the problem with a construct like the Web in the late 90s is that people weren't necessarily so cognizant of the need for quantification of the return," said Poppick. Everyone talks about ROI in different industries. But look at where our industry is now versus even 18 months ago, in terms of how we can quantify what we sell. It's not even close," said Poppick.

It's not glamorous what people like Jesse Poppick do. It's only vital to the future of our industry. That's my big takeaway from AdTech this year. To hell with the sizzle. This is a real business now, and has to be addressed as such. I think it's finally happening, and it's about time.