Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Festival of Media 2009, Valencia

I find myself in a hotel in the wonderful City of Valencia surrounded by luvvies and advertising types who tonight will host their industry 'oscars', having played on the town last night and 'networked' late at the Ghecko Bar.

Some people's idea of 'networking' might be murmuring over a beer at such a bar, for some it is bellowing to be heard in a private conversation in an empty room as they like the sound of their own voice but I think the person in the next door room in my hotel went a step further than most. At first I thought they had found the porn channel on the TV and accidentally sat on the volume button but the rather enthusiastic sounds became a little more human as time went on. They were the unmistakable sounds of either someone trying to impress or who has been paid for. I decided on the former as it started up again with gusto at around 3am before the door slammed and someone left. No names, no pack drill.

So The Festival of Media 2009 is no different from any other event, I concluded.

The Good and The Famous

It is a bit of a marketing coup in that the only direct flights from London to Valencia are via Easyjet and even David Puttnam took the same route as Iberia goes via Madrid or Barcelona at £700 a pop while BA doesn't go there at all. Stelios will be pleased in his nice apartment in Monaco where he hides from our taxman but enjoys his knighthood alongside Philip Green - for him every penny counts.

Online marketing is one of the few industries to have thrived in this recession and it was plain to see amongst the throng of people who had spent £1,800 a head to participate that they were doing well. Stress was eased by copious biscuits, ice creams, glasses of Rioja and free massages on the Adconion Stand, who along with Microsoft Advertising, Orange and VivaKi were the principle sponsors of the event which was organised by C Squared.

There were also many 'Thought Leaders' at the event who had clearly paid significant sums for the privilege of 'Thinking' while a tiny smattering of exhibitors had small but natty stands - including a scaletrix set on the Eurosport stand which I assume was a scaled down model of the Grand Prix to be hosted on the streets of this city in August this year. As it happened, there were all sorts of 'Partners' at the event who vied to sponsor tags to press rooms, to VIP lounges to media to news - you name it, and someone sponsored it. Such is the way in the media, so I'm told.

I met a nice guy on the first night, Phil Cooper who is the CEO and founder of Utarget and who had recently sold a majority stake of his company to Fox. He was busy preparing his talk for the next day but he wasn't bellowing loudly in an American accent to make sure everyone heard him in an empty room nor, to my knowledge, was he the person in the next door room. Dare I say it, he seemed quite a regular guy.

Day One - Transitions

The theme of Day One was all about transitions which was to remind us how media was changing in terms of presentation and how we could all spend more money than before on marketing. It's true that internet marketing has brought a sea-change in the possibilities of not just targeting people but analysing the results too. But the industry needs to get rid of this cliquey 'scam' image of people passing one click to the next and amassing enormous clicks and revenues very quickly for few discernible results. For every piece of content you produce, someone, somewhere can earn money by passing it around and promoting click throughs which most would dispute actually occur and certainly have little to do with the advert and product. It seems that automated click throughs are at the heart of the whole set up and there is a great deal of money to be made on this. Just ask Google.

The Power Play of the day came from eBay and Doug McCallum, VP of eBay EMEA, who was kissing goodbye old models and extolling how eBay was changing to get diversified revenue streams. This is a point in question - eBay is one of the chosen platforms for scammers and it is too easy for them to play the game while eBay itself has moved away from its roots of 'stay at home' millionaires, ditched the smaller traders and focused on big-spending corporates who want to buy and sell on its platform. The trouble is, until it shakes free of the scammers then people will not trust it too well, no matter how much the nice words sounded.

So I settled for the talk entitled 'Are you a re multiplier' and found that if I wasn't, the person in the next door room probably was.

Day Two - Recession and Innovation

From 'Can clients understand IP?' to 'Seriously Social Media' it was all about pioneering communication change and online advertising. The recession has been a bad time for traditional advertising but it has been a great success for online stuff - the industry grew this year at a very sharp rate. The JC in JC Decaux was at the event to augment this fact and how their bus stop and billboard ads are no more and how it will all be online soon - but not yet. After all, we still like to see black and white pictures of Posh and Becks peering at us through the tattoos, Armani underwear and labelled perfumes on the streets of Milan. Tradition cannot change overnight but it can certainly increase spend.

There were some good talks on 'Determining media value in a recession' and 'The Future of Targeting' - all very relevant if you are watching the pennies. But the over-riding message was that the only way out of a recession was to spend more on your brand and more on social media and more on everything, in fact. There is a good logic here - there is no point in stopping spend on marketing in a recession but there is also a profound message about getting value for what you pay for. That has yet to be determined in some quarters but that is always the beauty of the media industry.

Numbers count and science has little to do with it, darlings. Just sup the free drinks and lunches and they will do the rest.

The Oscars

Which brings me neatly on to the 'Industry Oscars' tonight which I shall sadly miss. But when we get awards for 'Best use of the digital landscape' and 'Award for branding bravery' I think it's time to beat a path to the airport. However, I should point out that the Dove Pro-Age campaign is short-listed in the latter but then again so is 'India votes: To shave or not'.

I leave you with the advert on the back page of the Delegate Book from Advertising Week who have a show in New York in September - 'Kudos to the Festival of Media 2009 for progressive leadership and vision.' It did not slip my attention that the advert was placed before the event.
Book up early for next year, luvvies. At £1,800, you know it's worth it.

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