Looking Back on Barcelona from the Bridge to the New World

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Ernesto Gonzalez, founder and president of IAB Caribbean, shares a few of his impressions from the recent Interact Congress and IAB Global Summit in Barcelona. In the dialogue below, we chat about the ways that Europe inspires him and the ways in which markets of all sizes can propel the digital marketing industry forward.

Mary Block: Did you find the presentations in Europe applicable to you and your market?

Ernesto Gonzalez: Definitely. Everything was really useful. Every day I learned a lot about the different countries and their issues. It doesn’t matter if a person was from Hungary, Poland, Norway, Chile Russia, the U.S. Spain, or Puerto Rico, we are in the same situation in terms of opportunities and growth. Maybe in some countries there are more men than women, for instance, but mostly I found that we are all in the same boat, with the same problems.

When we sat down to discuss the situations of our markets, they were quite similar. The growth of “social” use, for instance, is everywhere; it’s not just the situation in Europe. Mobile advertising, the way that people are using tablets and iPads and the growth of these types of devices is something that is also happening in Puerto Rico and the U.S. It was interesting to see how global these situations are.

What differed were the strategies for approaching these opportunities: how to approach, how to react and teach the market how to use this medium. It was very interesting to see how a brand like Heineken, when they started a social media marketing effort to get to a million fans, they got the idea to send girls to give hugs to people in bars. They were wearing brand t-shirts and saying, “Thank you for helping us get to a million fans.” So it was quite interesting to see how they approached the social media opportunity—connecting to people in bars in the offline world. It was really funny! They showed a great video—ugly guys, common-looking guys getting hugs from these beautiful ladies, and they were all like “What’s going on here? Why is she hugging me?”

I think they’re very open-minded in Europe. They’re open to trying risky things. I think in other markets, people are less inclined to take risks. I think (Europeans) have a more open view of the world. You can see it in the advertising and in the TV there. But again, that’s my perspective.

Roberto Castro, Televisión Nacional de Chile (L) and Ernesto Gonzalez, IAB Carribean (R) at IAB Global Summit e Interact 2011. Courtesy IAB Latm.

MB: What struck you as particularly open-minded?

EG: Well, when I say open-minded, I mean that they really try things that I don’t think corporate America would try. The ads are less conservative. They’re definitely more sexually explicit. They’re willing to try more risky things in Europe than in the U.S., and I think that’s something that we, in these other markets, should remember. In these media, we really have to look beyond the traditional things that we’ve always tried to do.

MB: What have you been doing since you got home to Puerto Rico?

EG: This week I’m trying to go through all of my photos and notes from the trip. There were a lot of things happening! First there was the global meeting. At the global meeting you see people from all over the world, and we all sit down and start talking about how to help our industry, and you find out that we are all part of a global media with the same situations. One may have a bigger market or a smaller market, but at the end of the day, it’s the same situation.

Then I went to the Europe elections. That’s something that not many people have the opportunity to participate in. Frankly I think I was the only one (from outside Europe) that got to participate in the agenda board general assembly of IAB Europe. I really appreciated the opportunity to see how they are organizing the whole region of Europe. That was something that I envisioned a long time ago—when I asked permission to lead IAB Puerto Rico, I saw what Europe was doing. That was four years ago, that I asked them to get IAB Caribbean in place. Puerto Rico being such a small market, I said “We should do IAB Caribbean, like Europe is doing.” So we were the second collective that was created. Then came IAB Latam, an online community, which is still in progress.

MB: What is IAB Latam?

EG: IAB Latam is a networking site that we in the region of Latin America contribute to and have a presence within. I’d like it to grow into more than just a website. If you go to the site now you’ll see pictures of Interact 2011. So in the future we’re looking toward having IAB Europe, IAB Caribbean, IAB Latam, and who knows, maybe IAB Asia!

And all this happened because, a few years ago, I participated in the general assembly of IAB Europe. It was quite interesting to see how they’ve grown from 2008 to 2011—I saw huge growth not only in terms of the countries that are joining the effort, but also in terms of the sponsors that they’re getting. Every year there are more and more sponsors joining the region of IAB Europe, and they are organizing in terms of policies and how they’re working. Because, as you know, they’re based in Belgium, and they’re working with policymakers to make sure that the legislation doesn’t affect the industry negatively. So they’re doing a great job, especially for such a young organization.

I was impressed by how democratic the IAB Europe elections were. Everyone was allowed to say so if they wanted to be a part of the board. The elections were really instructive for me. I think we can learn a lot from them. They have some strong missions for 2012: they want to “Promote, Protect, and Prove” that they are a commanding force in the region. They want to promote the Internet media industry. They want to protect the industry, meaning preventing legislation that will negatively affect the European region. And they want to prove that they are the leaders of the Internet marketing field. For me it was a great experience.

MB: Do you feel that the things you learned at the Congress and at the Global Summit are things that you can fully introduce to the Caribbean market?

EG: Oh definitely! They have a white paper, Mobile Media; Consumer Insights Across Europe, that I found particularly useful. Of course they always say that the mobile market in Europe is more advanced than any other markets. I think that’s true, but still in its early stages. Maybe the penetration is bigger, but in terms of advertising, you know, they’re moving, but I don’t think it’s like, “Wow, they are way, way, way ahead of us!” You know?

MB: So these insights are applicable across a global spectrum. It’s not like Europe is so far ahead that other markets can’t relate and share information.

EG: No, no no. I think it’s completely applicable. I don’t see them as Pluto and me as Mars. We’re much closer in terms of opportunity. Again, I find it’s the same situation requiring a different approach.

MB: How would your approach differ? For instance, is there anything, strategy-wise, that they can do in Europe right now that we can’t do in Latin America or in the United States?

EG: No. I don’t think they’re doing anything over there that we can’t do over here. That’s my way of seeing it. I can apply everything I learned there about how they’re approaching their market. Definitely. The implementation might differ from market to market. But they’re talking about things that we’re talking about on this side of the world: gaming, real-time web, TV and how it’s moving—that will be the next big thing. They’re talking about mobile, locals like Foursquare—the multi-faceted communication links. Again, it’s the way that creative approaches these opportunities that differs. I think (Europeans) have really good taste and an open mindset.

MB: Do you feel that the various global perspectives present in Barcelona were utilized fully?

EG: Completely. Completely. We networked and found that we shared the same problems, and learned from each other about how to approach them. It felt like one big community. Good ideas came from the smallest countries and the biggest countries. Puerto Rico is a market of roughly 4 million people; the Caribbean market is still not that big. But I sat down and talked with people from Spain and Mexico, which are huge markets. We can still collaborate and share ideas.

MB: What’s one idea that really stands out in your mind from your collaborations with larger and smaller markets?

EG: Well, at this event I really felt like more of a spectator, because it was Europe’s event, but I can tell you that in our meetings, we always push to exchange ideas. For instance, at the meeting in New York, our country was the one who really supported this IAB Latam effort, and pushed larger countries like Mexico and Chile to do it. That’s part of the global idea: the effort and the energy can come from anywhere, not just from the big ones.

So what I really appreciated from this event and from the U.S. events is the opportunity to talk and to share ideas. For instance, it was so interesting to speak to the marketing manager from Heineken, which is based in The Netherlands, as you know. It was great to see their approach to online and social media. It was also interesting to hear from a company like Orange, another great presentation. Their marketing director spoke about mobile marketing and about TV and how TV is moving.

MB: What was the thing that you were most excited about telling other people when you got back to San Juan from Barcelona?

EG: The first thing I thought was, “Wow. We need to keep working as hard for our industry as they are in Europe.” I’m in the process of planning a global event here, and I can’t wait to invite all of them to come to Puerto Rico in March! I’ve invited speakers to come from Spain, Hungary, and all over Europe and the U.S. to fly to the Caribbean and join us at our big event in March. So I feel that I really need to work hard and harder to make it a great event. I would be thrilled for my friends from Europe to come by and see this side of the world.

MB: What do you hope to be able to share with them in Puerto Rico?

EG: Basically I want them to see what I’m seeing—that no matter how big or small the market is, we are one community. We can all help each other.

I hope that they’ll learn from our culture the way that I learned from theirs. Some people think that the Caribbean is just beaches, rum, and parties, but we are a well-educated people with a strong economy and good facilities. We’re much more than beaches and rum—we’re a bridge to the New World. Their ancestors, when they came to the New World, stopped first in the Caribbean. My goal is to show that Puerto Rico and the Caribbean are still that bridge into markets on this side of the world.

For instance, I’ve encountered some businesses that don’t have any efforts in the U.S. or in Latin America, they’re only focused in Europe. I wondered why, and I realized that they need to have this link. They need to meet people like us to develop links to help their businesses grow. I think the IAB can help these companies to establish themselves and create this economic interchange. They need us and we need them. I think it’s a big step in the right direction to improve networking between the Old World and the New World, and the IAB is making that possible.

Originally from Miami, Mary Block is a writer currently living in New York City, and a member of the IAB Global group on LinkedIn. She can be reached on twitter @mary_e_block.