IAB Annual Meeting Wrap-Up

Industry headliners inspire interactive leaders

February 27, 2008—After two and a half days of a powerhouse lineup of speakers and attendees, the IAB’s Annual Meeting, Ecosystem 2.0—Driving Growth in Digital Marketing, was officially closed yesterday in Phoenix, Arizona. Senior voices from across the industry—leading executives from media companies, marketing and agencies—came together to grapple with the major issues of interactive advertising, helping set the vision for the coming year and the years beyond.

Looking back over the past few days, one sees numerous and far-reaching highlights.

Randall Rothenberg, the IAB’s President and CEO, opened the conference on Sunday evening with a brief, powerful address reinforcing the theme of the event. “Ecosystem 2.0 is about all of us working together to build businesses and improve lives,” he said to the sold-out room. Rothenberg emphasized that the industry must compete ferociously and yet also find common ground to help the industry grow

Jim Spanfeller, Forbes.com President and CEO and outgoing Chairman of the IAB Board of Directors, related what he thought were the major accomplishments of the IAB over the past two years and then touched on a theme that he believed set a future agenda for the organization and emerged throughout the conference as a major driver for the industry—content. “People go to the Internet for content – both editorial and services,” he said. “And we need to acknowledge, nourish and recognize great content.”

Wenda Harris Millard, President, Media, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, and new Chairperson of the IAB Board, then took the stage. And her keynote did not disappoint. Millard set the room on fire as she talked about change—rapid and powerful change that is shifting the marketing and media ecosystem at an unprecedented pace. “Media has changed more in the last 5 years than it did in the last 50,” she said, emphasizing that we are in a historic moment right now. Years ago, consumers, it was thought, would become programmers of their own media, but no one imagined they would also become the producers and distributors as well. In some cases, the consumer has been ahead of marketers in this new dynamic environment. “We must take the responsibility for educating ourselves, marketers and agencies,” said Millard. “We must help marketer and agency folks distinguish between commodity and quality.”

The evening closed with the debut of the IAB Service Excellence Awards, giving well deserved recognition to the IAB members who have gone above and beyond in contributing to the success of the industry. Read the full list of winners here.

It was on the second day that the most anticipated session began when Yahoo!’s Jerry Yang, CEO and Chief Yahoo!, and Susan Decker, President, spoke at length to the capacity crowd about the state of the industry and the future of Yahoo! Decker announced a bold new platform that would link advertising across a variety of systems and ad formats from search to video, saying it would result in a kind of revolutionary transformation akin to the one from VCRs to digital video recorders. They were then joined on stage by Rothenberg for a fireside chat. Yang addressed the proverbial elephant in the room by discussing the Microsoft bid to purchase Yahoo! and the reasons he and Yahoo!’s board rejected the offer.

Chris Vollmer, Media Practices Leader of Booz Allen Hamilton, debuted the second phase of the groundbreaking Marketing & Media Ecosystem 2010 study, sponsored by a cross-industry group of the IAB, the Association of National Advertisers, the American Association of Advertising Agencies, and conducted by management consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton. The results, based on research encompassing 100 members of the IAB, highlighted the changes media companies have undertaken in order to respond to the demands of marketers in the new digital media landscape. Media companies have taken on creative development, behavioral targeting, consumer insights and ROI capabilities. The study also showed that lack of clarity about standardized measurements and education about the complexities of digital advertising were the key barriers to the growth of online advertising.

 

During Monday’s lunch, for the first time, the IAB celebrated leadership in growing the interactive advertising business by honoring two sales organizations that exemplify leadership in sales best practices. The first annual IAB Sales Awards were presented by Jack Myers who gave a brief talk on what constitutes excellence in sales as part of the lunch festivities. Read full details on the winners here.

When Rothenberg retook the stage, he gave an overview of the mission and accomplishments of the IAB and announced that the organization’s Board of Directors had just adopted new interactive advertising Privacy Principles that are designed to ensure users’ control over the use of personal information by interactive media and advertisers while at the same time guaranteeing continued improvement in the delivery of relevant marketing communications to consumers. He also announced something that caused a good deal of applause in the room—according to the IAB and PricewaterCoopers, interactive advertising revenues for 2007 are expected to surpass $21 billion, setting a new record high.

Brian McAndrews, SVP, Advertiser & Publisher Solutions, Microsoft, announced more news, when he debuted Engagement Mapping, Microsoft’s new reporting standard for digital campaign performance. Interactive is already the most measureable media and McAndrews dazzled the audience by showing the potential to take metrics to new heights not seen before.

Branded publishers also shined as Jason Kilar, CEO, Hulo, delighted the crowd with a demonstration of Hulu, a new digital video distribution service focusing on premium content. Kim Kadlec, Chief Media Officer, Johnson & Johnson and Tina Sharkey, Chairman, BabyCenter, proved to the captivated crowd that there is far more to advertising on the Web than ad serving and impressions. It’s also about insights. “We need media companies to do what they do best and create great content and drive insight through that,” said Kadlec. “BabyCenter has taught us that media companies don’t just sell ‘pork bellies,’ they sell much more.”

By the start of day three, it was clear that four key themes had emerged from the conference:
• Platforms are competing for marketer, agency and publisher attention.
• Insights and a great user experience can surmount any feared “commoditization” of media.
• The interactive industry must pursue education of “digital immigrants.”
• Agencies can play a key role, working with the media and the platforms, in this time of massive and rapid change.

These themes were driven home by the final day’s keynotes and panels. Rob Norman, CEO, GroupM Interaction, delivered an energetic keynote that emphasized interactive is not a medium or a channel—rather it is a parallel universe. Using an informative dive into the world of GroupM, Norman made the case that the new media agency needs to be a major data center, an arbitrageur of value and a significant component of the distribution chain.

An intense debate on ad exchanges and the potential commoditization of media followed. Representing branded publishers were Jim Spanfeller and Patrick Keane, Executive Vice President, Chief Marketing Officer, CBS Interactive. Representing the ad exchanges were Michael Rubenstein, Vice President and General Manager, DoubleClick Advertising Exchange, and Bill Wise, General Manger, Global Exchange, Yahoo!. Each side raised insightful points. Exchanges can reduce friction points and help sell remnant inventory. At the same time, publishers need control and the relationships, and understanding of inventory is still very important as consumers come to the web for content, not “advertising.”

The annual meeting ended on a high note with Rothenberg’s candid and insightful interview of new AOL Chairman & CEO Randy Falco. Falco made clear that media needs to be about the customer, not the technology. He told the crowd that we are still very early in the game and the people who will win this game are the ones who develop solutions, not just sales opportunities, for their partners.

Check iab.net for an overview of the press reports on the IAB’s annual conference as well as an informative blog on the event as it unfolded. In the coming days, check back for more commentary, plus a full gallery of photos and video from this historic conference.