Ad:Tech Abuzz With Industry Optimism

SAN FRANCISCO – While it’s still too early to make proclamations about the success or failure of this year’s Ad:Tech conference in San Francisco, attendees are by and large impressed with the number of those in attendance, and are optimistic about the show’s potential.

Ad:Tech comes on the heels of two reports that have spurred optimism within the online ad industry, one from the Interactive Advertising Bureau, and another from a Goldman Sachs analyst. The show, slated to run for three days, kicked off Monday.

“It looks good so far,” said David Glaze, VP of creative for Genex, which is attending the show for the first time since 2000. “We skipped the last two years because we felt the show was losing momentum.”

Thomas Bullock, a sales manager for Switchback, voiced a similar opinion: “New York in November 2002 was OK. Los Angeles was laughable. However, the buzz seems to be good for this conference.”

According to the organizers, registrations at this week’s Ad:Tech conference are double those the twice-yearly event garnered in New York six months ago, and three times the number that attended last year’s Los Angeles event.

This year’s Ad:Tech has earned 631 full registrants, compared to 290 for last year’s event in Los Angeles. Registrations for admission to the exhibit hall only came in at 1,656 this year, 25 percent more than the Los Angeles conference. Futhermore, there are 142 speakers scheduled this year compared to 105 for 2002’s West Coast Ad:Tech.

“The mood here is extremely positive and upbeat,” said Joel Davis, president and CEO of JD Events, the company that bought Ad:Tech from struggling events provider iMark in January 2003.

Speaking to following the conference’s first session, which was filled to capacity, Davis said Ad:Tech’s glory days in 1998 and 1999 were an illusion created by the involvement of dot-com businesses that were — in retrospect — doomed to fail.

“When the economy went south and those businesses failed, we realized the future of interactive was in the big brands, and we started to focus on that audience,” he said. “We honestly didn’t have a choice; the online money was going away.”

Davis said he believes the conference’s redirected marketing efforts are starting to pay off.

The number of exhibitors at this year’s event is up, to the tune of about 30 percent. This year, there are 95 booths, compared to only 60 in L.A. in 2002, a year in which heaps of criticism were piled on Ad:Tech and iMark during two abysmal performances.

While attendance at this year looks to be markedly improved, several attendees to the early conference sessions on Monday were unimpressed with the content.

“Attendance is good, but the content so far is too general to be useful,” said Klaas Weima, a Holland-based freelance journalist and marketing consultant for Amsterdam-based Free for One. “The New York event was smaller, but the sessions were more practical than this morning’s. We’ll see.”

Susan Bratton, the conference’s chair, introduced Ad:Tech’s first event, a general panel on Web marketing strategy that featured more traditional brands and marketing perspectives than online companies. Among the panel’s offline brands were Michelin, Oracle and Kimberly Clark Corporation. The only panel member representing a pure-play online company was MSN’s Brand and Communications Director Anthony Rodio.

Ad:Tech itself, along with its organizers, have gone through as many ups and downs as the online advertising industry in recent years. Although Joel Davis only launched JD Events in December 2002, he has been a member of Ad:Tech’s executive leadership since the conference was run by eMarketWorld in 1998. eMarketWorld sold the event to iMark in 2001, at which time Davis made the leap to that company. When iMark began to flounder, he formed JD Events to acquire Ad:Tech.

“While it’s changed ownership several times, the same team has essentially been running this show for four years,” he said.

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