I just came off a week chock-full o' conferences. While I think it's healthy for our industry to gather together every so often to talk about where we are and where we're headed, there's always room for improvement in our industry's key conferences. After all, if there wasn't room for improvement, we would never get those surveys at the end of every conference asking us to rate the content.
Here are my tips for moving online advertising conferences in the right direction:
- You won't hear complaints if the people who spend money are present - This is a double-edged sword. Publishers will sponsor almost anything at which media buyers and advertisers are present. Most publishers who have expressed an opinion to me on conferences have said that the primary opportunity is the networking that goes on, not the content. Content is secondary to publishers, who are often the ones subsidizing the advertisers' presence at conferences. But in order to ensure the media buyers and the clients show up year after year, good content is key. Don't ask the sellers whether they thought the show they just attended was successful - if the spenders were there, they'll swear up and down that the show was great. Instead, ask the clients and then ask the buyers. I'm sure they can add some valuable and constructive criticism.
- Kill the done-to-death topics - Most panel or seminar topics are good for two shows and that's about it. If I see another panel on branding vs. direct response, measurement standards, ad size standards, or which rich media technology is coolest, I'm going to scream. Many media buyers feel the same way. Instead, we need to see more fresh topics that confront some of the newer issues.
- Don't try to solve long-standing problems in a day - This is a mistake I've seen many make. The debate over what constitutes an ad impression has raged on since about 1996. Thinking that one can bring such an issue to closure in a single day isn't realistic. If conferences absolutely must make an effort to solve the industry's problems, kick off the discussion at the conference and use the community-building strengths of the Internet to build a forum where people can continue the discussion over time. Perhaps we will solve a few of the industry's problems by talking it out, but it ain't gonna happen in a day.
- Stop talking to ourselves - Almost every time I see Doug Weaver from the Upstream Group speak at a conference, he hammers home the point that our industry loves to talk to itself. And he's got a great point there. Our business has such great energy and enthusiasm - we should try to spread it to key budget decision-makers at large advertisers whenever we can. Conference companies should incentivize buyers and sellers to invite their clients to conferences and attempt to reach out to the folks who aren't yet believers that the Internet is a great commercial communications medium.
- Wi-Fi, Wi-Fi, Wi-Fi - Most executives in this business start to get wiggy when they're not connected for extended periods of time. One can't expect the sales VP who has a pending million dollar deal to feel particularly great about spending a day away from the office talking with his industry cronies. Same goes for media buyers who get antsy about client requests that might be coming in while they're away from their desks and clients who have multi-million dollar offline budgets to tend to. Let's ease the burden by having wireless connectivity in the conference rooms, so that people can rest at ease, knowing there's not a major crisis back at the office.
Please don't construe this as a critique of any of the existing online media conferences. Each is good in its own particular way. But I think addressing some of these points could mean the difference between a good conference and a phenomenal one.