Ad:Tech SF: No Marketers, No Worries

At almost every Internet conference, the brand marketers are the most sought-after attendees. They're the ones controlling the seven, eight, or nine-figure budgets and have the company names on their badges that your friends have actually heard of. They sometimes even form their own organizations that have their own private conferences, such as the Internet Strategy Forum (the ISF recently told me, when inquiring about joining, that they don't "have a membership category for vendors"--using the insidious v-word, no less).

This led me to wonder what would happen if we vendors threw a party and didn't invite the marketers. What if we could talk amongst ourselves for a night? After two days of attending Ad:Tech San Francisco last week and having had only one conversation with a marketer (I couldn't find marketers anywhere), I knew exactly what that felt like. And it felt great.

Before I get into why, I need to address the representatives from Ad:Tech who call and tell me I'm not invited to Ad:Tech Dubai in 2007, or Ad:Tech Des Moines, or wherever they host their future conferences. They will likely lodge a number of complaints with the thesis of this column, including: they had X marketers attending the show (X, of course, representing a really, really big number), there were X marketers speaking in the sessions, there were X marketer-only events I wasn't invited to, and I really need to make X more marketer friends and stop hanging out with bloggers and technology geeks.



All of this is undoubtedly true. I'm talking only about my experience, which may or may not have any remote connection to the experience of the 9,000 other attendees. Yet let's "suspend disbelief" and imagine that the marketers didn't make it to this party. Let's say that the only marketers who showed up were from technology companies, and that the vast majority of attendees hailed from ad networks, lead generation companies, research firms, search engine marketing companies, e-mail solutions providers, interactive agencies, and every type of dot-com, Web 2.0 technology outfit you can think of.

Even if that was the case, it could still make for a fulfilling, productive event well worth the airfare and time spent many times over. That's exactly what Ad:Tech felt like for me, and I'm not just saying that because I'm already looking for an excuse to come back and eat Barry Bonds's weight in crepes at Ti Couz in the Mission district.

Since I spent so much time talking with peers from marketing technology companies, interactive agencies, local search companies, research firms, and, yes, even solutions providers, I was constantly thinking of ways to work with them to further the goals of my company's clients. It wasn't just talk; this was very, very real, and I'm excited to be back at the office to start implementing some of the ideas discussed.

There can even be a downside with having marketers at these conferences. A marketer at a vendor-dominated event is like a hot girl at a frat party. Everyone's fantasizing about getting in bed with her, and pretty soon everyone is acting really goofy. Nobody ends up having a good time, since it turns out she's still faithful to her boyfriend back in Palo Alto. Everyone goes home all depressed that they didn't even get her phone number, so they think the whole event was a waste. Meanwhile, if they just took their eyes off her for a second, they would have heard the Arctic Monkeys jamming in the basement, and it would have been one of the best nights they ever had.

I'm sure there were X marketers at Ad:Tech, and it might have been nice to return home and do some name-dropping with the boss so that I got my conference expenses approved that much quicker. Then again, being away from the clients and prospects for a bit allowed me to have some candid, in-depth conversations with many of my peers. I'm now refreshed with new ways to serve as a partner (not a vendor) for the clients I'm working with today, and those who come on board down the road.

Maybe we won't be finding those future clients at Ad:Tech. That's fine. We don't always need to be in the same room. Losing ourselves in conversation with peers for a couple of days may be the best way for us to find ourselves in a successful, lasting relationship.

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