The Conference Imperative.

As I write this post, a few hundred of our industry’s best are at Dmexco, which folds right into New York’s Advertising Week which – before you know it – turns into CES and SXSW and Cannes and …. You get the picture. But it’s not just the big tent-pole gatherings; there are scores of smaller meet and greets peppered throughout the year from the likes of Digiday, ad:tech, iMedia, Digital Storytelling and even Upstream Group’s own Seller Forum. In a recent MediaVillage post, the value equation/boondoggle-factor of such events was briefly questioned.

Yet even as “can you believe how many events there are these days?” remains one of the most popular cocktail topics (at these very same events) the market value of human gathering is beyond question. Simple economics tells us so. If sponsors and attendees weren’t willingly ponying up the cash, many events would simply wither and die off. Yet here they are – again – blooming like dandelions. I’ve got a theory about why.

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The popularity of human focused events has grown in direct inverse proportion to the decline in day-to-day human contact between people who buy and sell stuff. In other words, the more that “connecting technology” – email, voicemail, texting, hangouts, shared documents – keeps us physically apart, the more we crave the handshake, the few minutes of eye contact, the nod of the head. Bitch all you want about whether a given event was “worth it” or not, human contact is at a premium and we will continue to pay that premium.

Now…to get your money’s worth out of any given event…

1. Have a plan. You’d be surprised how many people and companies don’t. Who do you aim to meet? How will you structure your time? Can you secure a formal or informal meeting spot? If you just show up, you’re just part of the crowd.
2. The first shall be first. As you attend parties or panels, get there first. Hosts and panelists remember the early arrivals. Then leave a little early to get a jump on the next one. No one will miss you at that point.
3. Spread out. People from the same company often stick together at conferences like 7th graders at the first middle school dance. If there are two of you in every conversation, one of you is irrelevant.
4. Write shit down. Give out a hundred business cards and collect two hundred. After each exchange, scribble a note on the back of a card. If someone doesn’t have a card, ask to take picture of their name badge with your phone, then text a copy of the photo to yourself with a short note. No matter how important the conversation or the customer, the connections are ephemeral unless you make sure they’re not.
5. Marketing, meet Sales! So often marketing and sales live in silos. Marketing buys a sponsorship and a bunch of passes to an event and then doesn’t get confirmation from sales about who’s attending until a few days before. Wasted dollars, wasted opportunity.

Human-to-Human matters more than ever. Make it count.

Town Meeting Day.

Town Meeting DayToday, March 4th, is very special.  As my friend Cecilia Lang of the Washington Post reminded me, it’s the only day of the year that’s actually a command – March Forth! – which I now like to interpret as us all marching forth out of this lousy winter into a much better spring.  It’s also Seller Forum Day.  I’m writing this as I await the arrival of 50 Chief Revenue Officers to a beautiful spot at the top of the Hearst Building where we’ll share ideas and issues for the next several hours.  Which leads me to the third reason today is special:  In our home state of Vermont, it’s Town Meeting Day!

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All up and down the Green Mountain State, across 237 towns, nine cities and four “gores” (don’t ask) citizens are gathering in gymnasiums and town halls to participate in perhaps the last acts of pure democracy left in our republic.  While centered on passing or rejecting town and school budgets, Town Meetings also include often spontaneous referenda on everything from paving a local road to pot legalization to taking a stand on an international justice issue.  It’s messy, spontaneous, argumentative, enlightening and inspiring all at the same time.

Just like our online marketing, advertising and media world.

A brilliant tech executive explained to me back in the mid-90s that the internet had grown into a ubiquitous, uniform global network precisely because no one controlled it. Sure, there was a room full of nerds who would distribute domain names, but nobody gave you permission to be on the web or start a magazine or launch a store.  When it came to online advertising, we kind of stumbled and lurched our way forward, every so often stopping to lay in some minimum standards around ad size, technical capabilities and legal.

Along the way, we interactive people have our own town meetings.  At CES, the IAB, SXSW, ad: tech, iMedia, the Seller Forum and many others, we participate in sometimes confusing debate and messy democracy.  Together we’re marking the recent past of our business and iterating its near future.  To the casual observer, it may seem like we have a lot of conferences; that the chief product of the digital marketing economy is talk.  But I clearly have a different take.

We all live in an unfinished, asymmetrical world, moving too fast and divided and segregated by the very technology that’s supposed to bring us together. Heads down in our email or hunched over our phones, we create bubbles where our vision of the world around us gets more and more self-referential and our issues ever more intractable.  If you ask me, there are probably not enough conferences and events.  It’s only by getting face-to-face and elbow-to-elbow with our digital neighbors that we maintain our participation in the future of the business, as sloppy and wasteful as that might seem.

So find yourself a comfortable spot in the bleachers, bring a lunch, and settle in.  It’s Town Meeting Day.

How to Work a Trade Event.

I’ve lost count of the industry conferences, trade shows and networking events I’ve attended over the last 25 years.  But I’m certain I’ve been to more in the last five years than in the first 20.  There are probably not more than 20 days a year when the industry event machine goes dark.  And collectively we spend hundreds of millions to mingle, drink and panel with one another.  You won’t hear me crying that there are too many events:  I host one of my own and have DMG — a major event producer — as a minority investor in my company.  But  we can all get more for our money with a little advance planning and strategy.  So here’s my list of simple rules and practices to consider as you pack team members off to their next event.

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1. Marketing, Meet Sales. In far too many cases, trade marketing (the folks who buy the sponsorships and tickets) are not well-aligned with sales (the folks who end up attending).  The result is a lot of confusion about who will “represent” the company at this event or that one.   Personalize it:  As you plan your sponsorship and conference schedule, be specific about who will attend and why.

2. Level Set. If your CRO is attending every single event on the calendar, that’s not a good thing.  They’re not all worth the CRO’s time.  Events, like nightclubs, have their own natural crowds. Some are very high level and strategic; others are more tactical and transactional.  Push the event producer for a sense of who’s really attending and what they’re likely to talk about.  Create an internal hierarchy about which events are relevant at which levels.

3. Have a plan. I’ll put it right out there.  The vast majority of sellers show up at resorts and conference centers with no real plan in place.  Get the attendee list in advance.  Figure out the ten people you have to meet and find their photos on line so you have a visual cue.  Reach out in advance to attending buyers and set appointments.  Most of all, know what it is you want out of this particular conference and measure it.  “Was this event a success for us?” is not a rhetorical question.

4. Spread Out. Yes, trade events can be a good time for sellers from different offices to bond with each other and with management.  But when I see sellers from the same teams never leaving each other’s sides for an entire evening — or an entire event — I smell trouble.  Divide, conquer.  If you’re part of all the same conversations, half of you aren’t necessary.

5. Ask Questions that Mean Something. When meeting someone at a trade event, be prepared with a question that will spark a real conversation. “What’s on the agenda you don’t want to miss?”  or “What’s Your Highlight so far?”  Do NOT ask the following:  “So….when’d you get in?”  That’s a non-question:  you don’t really care about the answer, it will produce meaningless data, and they know you didn’t really care to think up anything better.

6. Don’t Close the Bar. Enough said.

7. If you Present, Personalize. Nobody wants to hear the general presentation.  Pick a couple of customers who will be in the room and tell them how you can help them.  The others wont’ be offended: they’ll be intrigued and curious about what you could do for them.

Take a few of these to heart and you’ll be able to answer “What did you learn?” and “Who did you meet?” instead of “When’d you get in?”

Being Grateful.

It’s a short week at the close of a busy, hectic year.  It’s also the time when many of us take our last breath before the sprint to make Q4 numbers while simultaneously shopping for the holidays.  So during this all too short breather, a quick note about the people, ideas and values for which I’m really grateful. Thanks go out to…

The 3-4 sales people in every workshop I teach who are truly dedicated to the profession of media sales.  I recognize your ambition and commitment, and they inspire me to keep doing what I do.

Those who read, comment on and forward The Drift to others in their companies.  Because of you, meeting this weekly deadline has become something I look forward to.

Ad:tech and the past recipients of the Industry Achievement Award.  To be recognized by such an amazing group last spring was humbling and inspiring.  I feel like it’s something I have to continue to live up to in the years ahead.

My wife Sharon and my daughters, Lucy and Madeline.  I’m grateful that such amazing women choose to keep me around so that I can see  the great things you each do for the world.

The people at iMedia, ad:tech, the IAB, AdMonsters, Evidon and Business Insider who’ve all given me the chance to speak or moderate at their events this year.  I hope everyone who ascends your stages feels the same gratitude and commitment that I do.

Enduring, enriching friendships with people like Wenda Harris Millard, Scot McLernon, John Durham, Dave Morgan, Larry Kramer, Rick Parkhill, Tom Deierlein, Charlie Thomas and Mark McLaughlin.  Through inspiration, support  and advice, you’ve all contributed so much to what I do.

The advisors who continue to guide The Seller Forum into its tenth year, and the sponsors — Collective/Amp, PubMatic and Mojiva — who continue their commitment to this unique and valuable environment.

Tamara Clarke and Christina Ross who work hard every day making sure the experience of working with Upstream Group continues to be a great one.  None of this would work without you.

All the companies who’ve been our customers this year  — for training workshops, Seller Forum events, Drift sponsorships, consulting and more.  33 Across, A&E,, AccuWeather,, Adara Media, Adconion, Adobe, AdoTube, ad:tech, Amazon, AOL, AT&T AdWorks, BabyCenter, bizjournals, Bizo, Blue Kai, Bonnier Corp.,, Burda, Burst Media, Business Insider, Buysight, BuzzLogic,, CBS, Centro, Collective, Comcast Interactive, comScore, Condé Nast, ContextWeb (PulsePoint), D&B Digital, deviantART, Discovery Communications, Disney, DMG WorldMedia, eHarmony, ESPN, Everyday Health, eXelate, Facebook, Fairchild, FOX News, FOX Sports, Gawker, Google, Grab Networks, Halogen, Healthline, Hearst Digital Media, IAB, IGN Entertainment, iMedia, InflectionPointMedia, Interclick, ITN Digital, Jingle Networks, Jumpstart Automotive, Kontera, Krux Digital, Lotame, LucidMedia, Martini Media, Meebo, Meredith, Microsoft, Mojiva, Monster Media Networks, Move, Inc., MTV, MyWebGrocer, Nature Publishing Group, Navteq, NBC Universal, NCC Media, The New York Times, Newspaper National Network, Orbitz, PubMatic, quadrantONE, Quantcast, Reader’s Digest, Remedy Health Media, Resonate, RMM Online, RTL Netherlands, Seeking Alpha, Sojern, Sugar Inc., TechMediaNetwork, The Daily, Hollywood Reporter, Weather Channel,, Thomson Reuters, Travel Ad Network (Travora), Tremor Video, Triad Digital, Turner, TVGuide, Us Magazine, Undertone, Upromise Inc., Vertical Acuity, Washington Post, Weatherbug, WebMD,, Yahoo! and YuMe.

And last but not least, I’m grateful that none of this is even close to being finished.  That there are so many ideas yet to be conceived, so many mysteries yet to be framed, so much of the future left to be invented.  Here’s to being grateful for what this year has brought us, and to remaining excited about what the years ahead will offer.  Happy Thanksgiving.

The New Old Look of Power.

Tomorrow I’ll be at ad:tech in New York, where for the second time I’ll be leading a discussion about “The New Power Brokers: How Google, Facebook, Apple and Amazon Are Changing the Game, and How Brands and Agencies Should Respond.” Since we started this discussion at ad:tech last April, the topic seems to have taken on even greater urgency and focus for those in the online marketing world  (Witness the coverage in last month’s Fast Company).   If anything, we should be paying even more attention than we are:  these four may be defining the business and consumer worlds we’ll all be living in very soon.

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There remain differences among these four companies, of course.  But thinking of Apple as a device maker, Amazon as a retailer, Google as a search company and Facebook as a social network is anachronistic to the point of delusion.  Today all four have blown away the intellectual and market borders that once defined them and are each aiming for hegemony and ubiquity in the life of the consumer and in the way we (in publishing and marketing) speak to them and sell to them.  And while Fast Company tried to sell magazines by offering predictions about why each of these players could “win,” I believe that “victory” is irrelevant:  the mere fact of their competition is enough to make us care.  Here are the scenarios that should stoke our curiosity:

The Web Itself Becomes Less Relevant: Apple, Amazon and Facebook are all in the process of creating walled gardens.  Your Apple or Amazon device connects you directly to iTunes or  Facebook sits on the web, but it is not of the web.  It’s an unsearchable, closed environment, notwithstanding the ubiquity of “like” buttons all over the web.  Google remains heavily engaged in the web, but with the purchase of Motorola it too will soon be a device maker.  With so much consumer time, money and attention siphoning into these four ecosystems in the next several years, will marketers and agencies start crafting five separate strategies:  one for the web and one for each of the big four ecosystems?

The Data War Becomes a Rout: So much of the talk (and investment) in our space has centered on consumer data.  We gather it, process it, apply it and sell it to one another.   But doing battle over data with these four is like fighting a gas war with OPEC.  In fact, most of us are actually contributing every day to the data war chests of Google (DoubleClick, AdSense, AdMeld, Gmail, etc.) and Facebook (Facebook Connect).  Not to mention the sheer volume of data-rich transactions that Apple and Amazon touch every minute of every day.

Credit Card 2.0: An interesting scenario painted in the Fast Company article is the specter of these companies becoming direct players in finance.  You already carry an iPhone or a Motorola/Droid which you use to check in at airports:  why can’t the same device be an instrument of payment?   If Amazon can close the loop even further and accept direct payment via your Kindle Fire (and even offer financing) why wouldn’t they?  Facebook already dabbles in “credits:” Not much of a leap to think that they too will want a piece of the consumer transaction.

This may sound like an apocalyptic vision, but it’s really more of a wake-up call.  If consumers end up trusting the big four with ever more of their time, attention and dollars, how should the rest of us respond?  Marketing, advertising and publishing all require well-populated environments.  And if your marketing, advertising or publishing strategy isn’t starting to focus on the big four, maybe it should?

Want to discuss this Drift with your team? Here are some topics:  “How can we begin to use Facebook  today as a driver of value for our customers?”  “As we establish our mobile strategy, are we taking into account the ambitions of the big four?”  “Is our overall strategy too dependent on the current economics and thinking of ‘web advertising?’”  And if you’re at ad:tech, stop in at our session, 2:45 to 3:45 Wednesday afternoon.