Will A Real Advertising Conference Please Stand Up And Can the Rest Sit Down?

To what degree are conferences considered content versus sponsored marketing pitches? In the scheme of things, are attendees considered loyal readers or are they viewed as caged pigeons?

Going in, you know there are going to be keynote speakers and breakout sessions and Q&A discussions, all sandwiched around networking opportunities and recreation. Nothing wrong with that formula, even though I bet little has changed since Marconi authorized the first radio confab. The problem I have is not with the conference agenda; it's with the speakers delivering "content" spiked with their own agendas.

Conferences need sponsors, to be sure. That's how the conference owners make money. Much like media editors, they sell advertising so that they can afford to secure a place in which to deliver content that attracts an audience. Where conferences like the one I recently attended differ from respected media outlets is that this conference did not offer the veneer of editorial independence.



Case in point. A widely known sales trainer gave the keynote at this recent conference. The sales trainer makes his living by training the very digital salespeople in the audience. His speech came off as one large sales call offering his insight laced with intentional provocation and the reassurance that the online market has all unfolded just like he said it would. He delivered his rote "speech" on how agency directors need to "tear down their business models" and "stand up to clients" and "do away with the click-through as measurement."

I listened and thought to myself, my sales calls often include conversations about interaction rates -- is he suggesting I play deaf and dumb when that subject comes up? And what does he expect us all to do -- take notes, run back to our offices and pen an email to our clients, the agencies we call on and our own management, telling them to tear everything down and start again? How is this advice I paid to hear helping me gain an advantage in the market in which I make my living?

Regardless of whether those in the room agree or disagree with his assumptions, my point is this: couldn't the conference producers find a keynote speaker who could deliver equal or greater value to the audience they addressed without having anything to personally gain from being there?

The "spot light" sessions that followed at this conference were more of the same. Speakers representing the sponsors of the conference I paid to attend led them all. I sat there listening to their canned pitches the way one listens to time share pitches in exchange for a free room and a few meals -- only this was far worse because I paid for the privilege of being pitched.

As an attendee, I was promised market insight and I was force-fed sponsored content from those who make their living off of me and my cohorts on the ground selling digital media. As I sat through these sessions, I wondered if those speaking understand how nonplused we (at least this we) in the audience find all of this?

I know a fair amount about the business of selling online advertising and I am very unclear about where everything is going and not afraid to confess that. However, I am sure where I am not going -- to any more online ad sales conferences, until one of them figures out how to deliver an experience worth my time and attention versus selling it.


13 comments about "Will A Real Advertising Conference Please Stand Up And Can the Rest Sit Down?".
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  1. Tom Troja from Social Sympony, June 7, 2010 at 9:01 a.m.

    The other POV is that Weaver really was speaking from his heart not from a vested interest... that he wants the best for a business that is heading fast down the wrong road of pushing ads at people who don't want them or care about them. He could still run his business training the same old stuff.

    I give iMedia credit for putting spotlight on the crucial problems of our industry and not talking about how to better micro target... or another ad network issue... those are the sponsor types with VC $ that have been paying conference bills and boring us to tears.

    Weak you can't use your real name Dude... stand up and be counted if you want real change... Isn't that how you earn respect?
    Tom Troja

  2. John Capone from Whalebone, June 7, 2010 at 9:34 a.m.

    @tom were you not listening to the Dude's story?

  3. Jeff Einstein from The Brothers Einstein, June 7, 2010 at 10 a.m.

    Agree or disagree with Dude, why is an otherwise reputable franchise like MediaPost publishing anonymous rants? How do we know whether or not Dude isn't using MediaPost to further his/her own commercial agenda? For that matter, how do we know Dude doesn't work for MediaPost (a very active player in the ad event business), and is simply taking the opportunity to beat up on a competitor -- with little or no risk of reprisal?

    This is bullshit...

  4. Tom Troja from Social Sympony, June 7, 2010 at 10:10 a.m.

    John... Dude starts out with ..."To what degree are conferences considered content versus sponsored marketing pitches". Dudes main example was Weaver who... with his message is actually alienating the existing sponsors and powers that be... read as nets, publishers, agencies etc.... that are sending people to his sessions.

    Understand Dude wants help to make his jobs easier... agree that all conferences need to do a better job... don't think he picked a good example of a sponsored marketing pitch as Doug is doing the dirty work of turning the battleship and not afraid of the slings and arrows... while he hides behinf the Dude and shoots the arrows.

  5. John Capone from Whalebone, June 7, 2010 at 10:24 a.m.

    @Tom, I think the Dude's point was not that there were a couple of optional sponsored marketing pitches but that the event seemed to be run by the sponsors. This is something we all need to work to avoid.

    @Jeff, I guess because you trust our editorial judgment in alloying an author whose identity we know to remain anonymous.

    And, with regards to your profanity, well, um, that's just like your opinion, man.

  6. James Meskauskas from ICON International, June 7, 2010 at 11:01 a.m.

    Agree with Tom and Einstein, here. The anonymity is either a) cowardly or b) a way to allow for a competing publisher to slam its competition without taking the responsibility of doing so. Based on the tone, I'd guess the author to be young, without the longevity and experience in our business to properly appreciate the meta-context of Weaver's address.

    The only content that is obviously sponsored content are the breakfast presentations, the Spotlights, and the Sunday evenings. It's made obvious.

    My guess is this gentleman felt hurt that his company was not afforded the opportunity to get in front of this crowd in the way some others did.

    All in all, the rant lacks intellectual honesty, accurate representation of the event.

    Will the real Dude please stand up?

  7. Jaffer Ali from PulseTV, June 7, 2010 at 11:01 a.m.

    John, every editor makes decisions whether to use anonymous sources...and to what level to use them. While I understand the stated reasons Dude wished to remain anonymous, one cannot help but question the wisdom of providing a forum for anonymous editorials.

    While I belong to the critical school of "trusting the tale and not the teller", editorials and or articles represent entering into an arena where ideas are exposed to a give and take. It is this process that is undermined when the author is cloaked behind a wall of anonymity.

    In this case, the role of anonymous sources seems to possibly be replacing the thrust of the editorial itself. You may wish to reconsider such a practice in the future.


  8. Alan Chapell from Chapell & Associates, June 7, 2010 at 11:22 a.m.

    The Dude makes a very valid point here. I think that almost every event company could do a better job of delivering high quality content. Some shows are better at it than others.

    The thing that I'm baffled by is why the Dude went after Weaver.

    I don't know Doug. I didn't make it out to this iMedia, but I did catch a video of Doug's presentation. For the record, I thought it was fantastic - insightful, well thought out, and entertaining.

    I recognize that others may disagree - and that's one of the things that makes this industry so interesting.

    But to call him out publicly and question both Doug's and iMedia's credibility anonymously is just poor form.

    And frankly, I question Mediapost's editorial judgment for enabling this nonsense in the first place.

  9. Michael Hubbard from Media Two Interactive, June 7, 2010 at 1:16 p.m.

    So how many people were actually in attendance at this "said event"? If this is the Austin one, I myself was there representing the agency side. What's funny about this thread to me is that the keynote speakers were an added value to the entire event. Kind of like the sponsored cruises where you're guaranteed to meet x number of people wanting to buy your product - this was run the exact same way. Agency members were even branded with Blue Bands at the bottom of their name tag so we were easily identifiable for sales reps. The big sales pitch to get people there was the 1-to-1 match ups, and everything else was icing on the cake. If you didn't walk away with 100 business cards of critical thinkers or possible business partners, then I put the blame on you for not making the most of the event itself. Doug's speech was entertaining, thought provoking - and anything but salesly to me... As a matter of fact, his examples ripped some of the other presenters and agency people. If that's how selling is done these days, then I missed something...

  10. Peter Platt from Accountable Digital, LLC, June 7, 2010 at 1:39 p.m.

    Wow, a conference event that inspires thoughtful conversation about what's going on in the industry - what a concept! There were some great takeaways from that presentation and we all get to decide which ones impact us and how we want to address them. The reality of any conference is you get out of it what you put into it.

    If you just want to be taught, attend university. If you want to engage with the industry, address the current issues and discuss with peers - go to conferences that inspire you and be sure to add value back to others.

  11. Kevin Ryan from Motivity Marketing, Inc., June 7, 2010 at 4:34 p.m.

    Dear "Dude" (if you exist);

    I've been to no less than a dozen iMedia Summits. I've spoken at so many conferences (including MediaPost events) in countries around the world I've lost track. I've even taken a break from being a practitioner to run an event series for a couple of years.

    I've expressed many an opinion over the years and have always been willing to face the consequences. Here's another one: you've no right to a credible opinion unless you cowboy up and identify yourself.

    What possible reason could there be for not identifying yourself? Fear of political persecution? Fear of reprisals?
    I think not. The only logical conclusion is that you (again, if you exist) or the publisher (something of a competitor) have an obvious agenda.

    This is nothing more than an attempt to dump greywater on perceived competition.

    Doug Weaver is quite simply one of the best speakers I have ever heard. Doug is one of the few people who has the stones to stand up and tell it like it is. In this instance, the voices in your head may have superseded his. In other words, I think you heard what you wanted to hear.

    iMedia's credibility as an event series is beyond reproach. As with many events sponsored content is clearly labeled as such. There is no better homage to iMedia than MediaPost's wholesale duplication of the model in the Search Insider Summit.

    Shame on MediaPost for publishing this nonsensical garbage.

    -Kevin Ryan

    p.s. speaking of originality, "The Big Lebowski" is Copyright © 1998 PolyGram Filmed Entertainment Distribution, Inc.

  12. The digital Hobo from, June 7, 2010 at 11:51 p.m.

    @ Tom -

    I think you missed the movie reference. "Were you not listening to the Dude's story?" is a line straight out of the bowling alley.

    The appropriate response would have been, "Shut the F*& up, John. You're out of your element."

  13. Tom Troja from Social Sympony, June 8, 2010 at 7:49 a.m.

    Good one Hobo

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