Ad Tech San Francisco Coverage

We’re back, Baby! Some Of Us Never Left.

I remember the day I arrived at my first Ad:Tech. I was living in New York and online marketers were swirling about in a frenzy to make contacts while attempting to understand the new medium. It was a site to behold. Parties, sponsored by companies that no one gave a rodent’s posterior as to what services they offered carried on in a seemingly unending salvo. I blinked and it all disappeared, so I moved to California.

I also remember the day I arrived in Los Angeles for the event last year. The low attendance and Gloria Gayner (I will survive) attitude had me lamenting about days gone by. Someone actually quoted me as saying the experience was “Morbid and sad”. Ouch.

Ad:Tech 2003 San Francisco, on the other hand, had moxie with 2,000 people proclaiming, “We’re back, baby” and the corporeal energy of the sessions on the first day leading attendees to sing with rapture.

While it’s great to be first to report incidents such as the Google-sponsored breakfast on day two initiating famine due to unprecedented attendance, I prefer to provide analysis beyond the speed-to-read quotient, i.e. there was a lot more happening at the event.

In the grand tradition of earth-shattering Ad: Tech experiences for yours truly, I had the exclusive and most remarkable pleasure of exchanging perspective on the conference and the industry from a select few of the industry’s biggest names, immediately following the event.


Yes, the industry is doing better than it was last year. Yes, the attendance was three times what is was at last year’s LA show. Clearly, it didn’t appear that anyone was ready for the sell-out crowd, but attendance went from standing room only to tumbleweed city as the conference rolled on. The cause of this may have been a decidedly negative buzz about the barrage of sales pitches from presenters, but despite the arguably gratuitous promotional information there was some quite notable content in the event.

On with the Show, Day One

The opening sessions of the show included a panel on building your brand with the always on-target Susan Bratton. I was happy to hear that ubiquitous brands like Michelin and Kimberly Clark provided key insights as to how to use the Web as brand vehicle. There is an inherent credibility in companies that have been around since before you could purchase their goods on the Web, and whose people wear suits to meetings and don’t dye their hair purple (witnessed in the exhibit hall) for attention’s sake.

Late morning to early afternoon breakout sessions included heated debate on tools to get a bigger piece of the budgetary pie, optimization and analytics and an afternoon keynote addressing the all-too-critical search for best-of-breed Web marketing resources.

The afternoon included a marathon session on cross-media optimization, which was scheduled from 2:00 to 4:45. This was particularly helpful to those who may have missed the road show in every major city in America. Not surprisingly, the breakout sessions were packed and most notable was the Net it Out session, focusing on the guiding principles of integrated marketing as interpreted by industry greats Modem Media, Carat, Adidas, HP, Sprint and Hyundai.

Day Two; Commence Whining About Sales Pitches

Luckily you can’t swing a dead cat in San Francisco without hitting a Starbucks so I was not among the starving on Tuesday morning. Nonetheless, Google introduced its guided missile, publisher-driven enhancement to AdSense. This could be the smartest approach to contextual search marketing yet.

By far the most entertaining keynote of the show was delivered by Bob DeSena from Masterfoods,USA. That PowerPoint animated M&M character sure was funny. What was the keynote about? Oh yeah, you will soon be able to buy M&M’s in the colors of your favorite NFL team. The TV spots we saw really showed how to leverage the power of the online space and improve customer relationship skills.

Immediately following my trip to the hotel gift shop to purchase some M&M’s, there was a smartly moderated panel on the blazing topic of search marketing. Lanny Baker, from Solomon Smith Barney, referred to the panel as the “Mount Rushmore of Search” which included alphabet soup titles from MSN, Overture, Looksmart, and Google. While the panel created a healthy buzz on the floor, my experience there personified the dynamically volatile nature of search today as each panelist offered diametrically opposed viewpoints of the next evolution in search.

As for the rest of the day, top on the list was a wiz-bang panel on removing the smoke-and-mirror component from the latest and greatest in ad formats. Thank heaven for people willing to stand up and sort out the hype.

Day Three; Everyone Left Early

The in-your-face drop-off in attendance from Tuesday to Wednesday was like staring at before and after shots of Rosanne Barr’s cosmetic surgery. The morning keynote from industry legend Regus Mckenna was painfully long winded and the 20-something audience appeared to get lost as stories about family vacations and the grandkids were interlaced with excerpts from his book, Total Access.

As the keynote continued five minutes after the scheduled time limit, I made a hasty departure to the FindWhat press conference. Rising star paid search provider FindWhat.Com announced a merger with the European provider of a similar ilk, Espotting, thereby perpetuating incessant M&A activity in the search industry. I will revisit this in my column next week.

Speaking of plastic surgery, ever wonder how to reach seekers of trans-gender related information? The B2C Search Strategies panel wins the award for most sophomoric giggles from a trade show audience. Masha Geller, I salute you for maintaining your professional aplomb while moderating the panel as the plastic surgery search-marketing topic was explored in uncomfortable detail. IProspect and client, Aubuchon Hardware, supplied the most useful information on how to effectively administer organic search marketing. The moral of the story here is; never leave Ad:Tech early.

The Floor

Exhibitor Business.Com won me over with comfortable couches to ease the aches and pains of floor warriors. Covering all of the exhibits in day two (exhibit hall opening day) was next to impossible unless you had wings to fly over the crowd. If only we had the LA, 2001 hall. In the category of trinkets and trash, anything that could conceivably take an eye out was a big hit.

You’d have to be a bovine, stupefied, fool not to notice the mother load of search providers in the hall anchored by, iProspect, Did-it.Com, Overture and Google. I counted nearly 20 search related exhibitors as I flew high above the floor. Oh, yeah one more, BlowSearch. The law of decency precludes my ability to comment here.

My companion for scouting the search marketing exhibit floor was none other than Chris Theodoros, Google’s Director of Worldwide Agency Relations, who had this assessment of the search tonnage. “It is the breadth and quality of choices offered in the search agency environment which finally gives confidence to Fortune 500 advertisers in embracing a complicated aspect of the medium.” I’m pretty sure he wasn’t talking about that blow company.

Boogie, Oogie, Oogie

The show contained multiple evening, late evening, and in my case, early morning opportunities for networking. Each day’s events included packed, sponsored wind-down cocktail hours. High on my Tuesday night list was the very classy and industry talent filled Yahoo! party after receiving a personal invite and a thumb’s down from my sea-fearing stomach on the Google boat ride. Topping the night off was the Synergy6 club gig-- the law of gentlemanly conduct precludes my ability to comment on related activities.

Final Words

Despite my skeptical nature, the hard working people responsible for delivering Ad:Tech; tasked with living up to the highest expectations, won my vote for making Ad:Tech one of the few industry events that you simply can not miss. I have alluded to life-changing events that for cosmic reason beyond my control always seem to occur around the event -- here and in my column. This year was no exception.

As attendees, speakers, and journalists raced back to their offices or to catch a plane, I found myself suffering from a phenomenon known as Post Great Conference Reality Let-Down Syndrome while choosing to stick around for still another dinner-slash-party invite.

Forbes.Com, the Rolls Royce of destination sites for reaching C-level executives and “Homepage for the world’s business leaders” hosted a post show private dinner for top advertisers and key industry personalities on Wednesday evening. Aside from the most urgent question of “How did I get invited?”, my initial thought was that the gathering and attendees simply oozed class and professional acumen of the highest order.

The precious few who privately dined together in an exclusive, elite culinary venue could have easily formed an A-list roundtable. They spoke of experiences in the early days with Billy (Bill Gates) and Mike (Mr. Dell) in developing technology that would change the face of marketing as they knew it (the Internet.) I was seated across from Jim Spanfeller, President and CEO, and I don’t mind telling you -- in the presence of these guys (non gender specific term), I was genuinely and uncharacteristically humbled.

As we proclaim, “We are back!,” and begin to celebrate our resurgence as a medium, I will attempt to encapsulate and paraphrase the advice and provocative thoughts offered from those who were there in the beginning, and never left.

Performance drives the medium, not the latest craze in format or delivery. Spare us the hype.

Satisfying your customers and constituent’s expectations will always be the wisest way to grow your e-business. Just make sure you’re profitable in the process.

You aren’t on top until every competitor has been buried or cremated. In the unlikely event this happens, find something else to do.

Thanks to all for a great week, and one more unforgettable experience.