Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Will the AdTech conference go the same way as the 3rd party cookie?

By Paul Gubbins, Head of Strategic Partnerships at Publica

I have been lucky enough to work in the programmatic space since 2010 and in that time, I have attended the majority of AdTech events & trade shows and I can safely say, each has been instrumental in growing my contacts, securing new business & shaping my knowledge of the often complex ecosystem I work in, digital advertising.

That said and pre lockdown, I got the sense there was a growing conference fatigue from some and it is only now that they are no longer physically with us that I think many are really starting to appreciate just how important they were & are to an industry that is underpinned by relationships as much as it is technology.

With a cancelled MWC & Cannes behind us, this is the time of year many are normally organising back to back ATS London & Dmexco Germany meetings but for obvious reasons, these events won’t be happening in person.

Now of course you don’t need conferences as an excuse to engage with your clients or prospects, however, there has always been a major buzz around key industry events as the practice of programmatic got more traction with advertisers and quickly transformed the way display, mobile, DOOH, audio & now TV is bought & sold.

As a sales person historically attending these events, I always found the access to senior agency, publisher, AdTech vendor or brand leads really helpful. I often found these events to be real leveller when it came to job titles and most were there with a common purpose & goal, to learn, build new & stronger relationships, and to win new business. Cannes is a prime example of this, the access to global C level (agencies, brands & tech vendors) all at a single event is unprecedented.

My worry is that many of these events that are anchor points in the digital advertising diary may not get the same initial uptake when they open up their doors again due to the growing dependency on virtual events & conference calls. Yes these solutions work well today, yes these solutions can go on to offer an infrastructure for the many that may choose to work from home more frequently, however, I hope they do not go on to replace the F2F element of what has always been referred to as a people based business as I believe these events are needed more today than ever before.

The tectonic plates of AdTech are changing beneath our feet daily in 2020 and conferences should continue to offer environments for everybody to engage beyond the heavily scripted & PR-approved vendor comms we are slowly getting used to as our source of truth mid global lockdown.

To sit and watch a moderator ask the difficult questions of vendors on stage I believe will always outweigh reading their press releases, to be introduced to a new client at a corporate dinner I believe will always outweigh that linkedin intro & to have a prospect walk buy and sporadically stop at your trade show booth for a quick chat rather than sending a cold email via your ‘contact us”™ page I believe will always be a better opportunity for your team to convey your sales message than an email response.

Having recently started a new role for CTV advertising platform Publica, I am keeping my fingers crossed for a 2021 conference circuit that will once again be in a position to physically showcase vendor innovation, challenge industry PR with in the-weeds panels & be that environment that continues to connect buyer & seller beyond the screen.

The AdTech conference informs not only sales planning, but also feature & product roadmaps, if these events don’t come back in person & stronger than ever before, I think a lot of innovation, M&A, relationships, new business & serendipitous opportunity is lost from our ecosystem and at a point in time when it is arguably needed the most.

I have lost count of the times I have had informal conversations that have been of strategic importance either from a commercial or product perspective in the ridiculously long conference taxi queue.

I really hope in-person trade shows don’t go the same way as the 3rd party cookie as they can’t be replaced longterm with alternatives in my opinion.