When In Rome: Listen To Marketers, Explore Tech, Experiment

I attended the 10th edition of the Global Festival of Media in Rome last week, and I was fortunate to host the marketer-exclusive sessions that went out under the Brand Learning Program banner. There were no agencies, media owners, tech companies or other non-brand marketing representatives allowed in the room. And that allowed for lots of honest and open discussions.

The Brand Learning Program was the first of its kind for the Festival, and I think it is a keeper (even if I don’t get to MC the proceedings in the future). In fact, discussions are already underway to expand the marketer-only sessions to the pan-regional Festival of Media editions in Latin America, Asia-Pacific and The Middle East.

So what did we hear? Well, everything that you would think is on marketers’ minds. There are massive trust and transparency issues, there are questions about how to allocate budgets to “everything” when your budget can not possibly cover “everything,” there are concerns about measurement and challenges with agency ecosystems, and many more.



Another observation was that the exhibition floor was almost entirely taken up by technology. Even Discovery Networks delivered on the tech madness with (highly engaging and pretty darn awesome) VR. And there was mobile video everywhere, from DSPs to channels to content creators. If I were to do a Festival of Media word cloud, I think “mobile,” “video” and “mobile video” would represent the biggest clouds. Oh, and “ad blocking.”

We also saw the likes of Unilever, Nike, P&G, Coca-Cola and other blue-chip marketers exploring new and different ways to get results, as evidenced in the awards submissions. In order to win in any of the categories you must not only have something pretty awesome to show, you also have to share results of the campaign. And although you might say that those brands are the “usual suspects,” what was interesting is that those brands are exploring new avenues in virtually all markets around the world, from Romania to Venezuela.

The good news is that marketers today — based on the evidence of the discussions and presentations — are significantly better-informed and educated than they were just a few years ago. I got the feeling they no longer sit behind their desks, head in hands, muttering to themselves they’ve lost the plot. Instead, what I heard were smart and articulate modern marketers who understand the challenges and find new ways to connect with consumers. I saw and heard plenty of evidence of marketers willing to experiment and do things differently. And that is pretty amazing.

I think it's fair to say that the industry actually knows full well where the pain points are, and even what to do about them. But to echo Festival Chairman Charlie Crowe’s opening remarks, we are an industry in crisis, and the crisis is too big to be solved by just one party. As loyal readers know, I very much agree with that idea. But outside of the safe environment of closed-door sessions, consensus — and, even more importantly, joint action — is still a long way away.

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