September 17, 2015

36 Hours In Ad-Tech Disneyland

By Damian Blackden Chief Strategy Officer

Damian Blackden

Damian Blackden

Chief Strategy Officer

Maxus' chief strategy officer Damian Blackden offers offers us a whirlwind tour of dmexco 2015, the huge ad-tech gathering that's been taking place in Cologne this week.

Roll up then everyone. It’s dmexco time again. When a global audience of 36,000 marketers, technologists, agencies, publishers and money-men descend on the German city of Kíln to indulge in all things ad-tech related.

Those expecting glamour and sophistication look away now please. Those who’d like the full fat ad-tech and mar-tech, in-your-face experience step this way. dmexco is exactly what you’re looking for.

If you’re interested in some history, dmexco started out as a German IT show ten years ago. By 2010 it had become the premier digital gathering in Europe, and by 2012 senior management from all global advertiser, agency and tech companies were making the trip, to the extent that Ad Age recently declared it the number 1 ad-tech gathering in the world.

dmexco is big, definitely not beautiful, but full of many clever people. It’s a combination of the largest trade show exhibition in ad-tech, combined with one of the most impressive industry speaker line ups you’ll see anywhere. No wonder Ciaran O’Kane, founding editor of Exchange Wire, named it the Disneyland of Ad-tech.

There are hundreds of stands, bought at great expense by digital publishing titans such as Google, down to that start up you haven’t heard of that may or may not make it into 2016.

Some of the stands drip with bleeding edge technologies that stir every geek’s senses. Others take a less reconstructed approach with fancy waterfalls, lasers and exotic dancers. There is no correlation between size of budget and sophistication of taste.

Meetings are scheduled back to back in 30 minute slots, which means 20 minutes of actual meeting time, as one needs 10 minutes to move through hundreds of people from one massive hall to another at speed.

I first came here as an agency person six years ago, and am back this time around as part of the Maxus Global team. Previously I’ve attended in other guises.

I’ve been the CEO of a German ad-tech stack company, running a stand the size of a medium sized portakabin with a sales team of ten and a branded up Audi sportscar.

It entailed dragging business prospects into the booth to give them product demos, whilst the VCs stood at the back quietly trying to calculate whether all this was 100k well spent or not.

I’ve also been there having just started a cross device tracking company, where the game was to find the target prospects’ stands, and ambush the key individuals into a sales discussion before they had a chance to escape. dmexco is not an elegant event for shrinking violets.

The flight to Germany is predictably packed with ad-tech reps, so I disembark with 22 people’s business cards, and having committed to an additional six meetings, and two post event booth parties. Good.

Having met up with Lindsay, Maxus Global CEO we head to the venue, which takes place in an increasing number of halls, each of which could probably house four space shuttles.

The event opens at 9.30 and the crowd surges into the venue. It’s 90% male in profile. A clearly unimpressed Lindsay stands out a mile given that the technology sector is so very un-diverse, and trails the agency business in this regard. Not good.

My objective is to get meetings with people who are not usually accessible, find out what innovations are in the pipeline from some of our key partners, and absorb the thinking presented by some of dmexco’s extensive speaker line up.

Lindsay, Richard Stokes (Maxus WW Business Development), Christian Leipacher (MD Maxus Germany) and I make our way to the Congress Hall to hear Martin Sorrell, our ultimate boss deliver his keynote.

I really detest people who feel the need to kiss arse. And yet I have to say that Sir Martin is bloody brilliant.

He sets out WPP’s client focused business dimensions before moving straight into the key dynamics affecting media, advertising, technology and business. It’s brutally simplistic at times, which is how the many messages, supported by data point after data point, are rammed home.

He covers a massive range of trends in a short space of time. These include the shift in power to the East, South and South-East, overcapacity with scarcity of human capital, the growth of retail power and of government, the importance of internal communications in complex organisations, the acceptance of social responsibility, with some inevitable industry consolidation.

Unfortunately there’s no time for questions at the end. This is disappointing, as they could have got very interesting indeed.

Next, Lindsay and I get to one of the ante-rooms to catch the end of Yannick Bolloré of Havas talking about creativity. As he closes he mentions that it’s taken having four daughters for him to realise that women are better than men. There is a cheer from beside me. Clearly our Maxus chief agrees.

On to a meeting with Yahoo!. Lindsay and I get deep into their roadmap for the coming twelve months. Several client specific opportunities appear to naturally occur, as the team there run through their focus on content and data, whilst maintaining an open platform strategy.

The whole place is really packed by now. Getting around requires some effort, and the tactic of entering via the fire exit in order to get a place in some of the presentation rooms.

M&M Global do a 10 minute film interview with me, during which time I try and sound at least vaguely interesting on the subject of DMPs and Sales-Tech. There seems to be considerable heat around the latter as in-retail technologies are improving quickly, making it possible to use online marketing to drive many more physical store sales.

Returning to the GroupM stand I meet with the founder of Authenticated Digital. This is a new and relevant company that brings greater clarity to the inventory that’s for sale on SSPs, by surfacing and analysing the individual domains and sub domains of the impressions that are made available for bidding. This gives us greater visibility regarding what’s in the market. And greater visibility means we can focus on what’s high quality, and discard what’s not. It’s early days but they’re making strong progress.

Richard and I make the journey to Sizmek’s stand. Sizmek is a company which started life as an Israeli ad-server, and through a process of acquisitions and disposals has now become a US ad-tech stack.

It’s a productive meeting. They have some new strategic and tactical goodies for us to try out immediately, and their collaborative approach is refreshing. I can see us doing more business with them in the coming months.

Back to the presentation halls for a session on evolved TV, which includes Xaxis’ CEO Brian Lesser. He explains how they value audiences across the various types of screen, and how the nature of the long form editorial content is a major factor, which is something we have previously highlighted in our POTO (Paradox Of Time Online) thinking.

Lumascape creator and celebrity showman banker Terry Kawaja is on next. There’s an air of anticipation in the room as he’s said that he will announce a large M&A deal during his presentation.

But first he makes a grim forecast. Of the 2500 ad-tech companies on the Lumascape map, only 148 stand a chance of a successful exit due to the limited number of potential buyers. He therefore predicts many businesses will fail in the tech sector, which will lead to a significant reduction in the number of players. Maybe dmexco 2016 will be a much smaller affair as a result.

Whilst this is all very poor news for many fledgling businesses, it’s actually good for advertisers as the tech industry will become less fragmented, and those companies that remain will be better integrated ‘ which will increase advertising performance.

Then the announcement comes, and we learn that News Corp has acquired video network Unruly. This is great news for the latter, who must have been waiting for their moment to come ever since AOL bought their rival GoViral back in 2011.

Next, Lindsay takes the stage to debate the effect of automation on businesses and business growth. Our Maxus chief looks relaxed in a way that someone might after rather thorough preparation.

The co-panelist from OpenX appears considerably less comfortable, and a discussion ensues regarding clients’ need for open rather than closed platforms, and how human capital is more valuable than technology. Having the best people makes more of a business impact than using the latest technology, although clearly having both multiplies the benefits.

I have a brief meeting with two of the sales team, arranged by Johan Boserup (CEO GroupM Trading), before joining Richard and Lindsay for a couple of drinks with Amobee. Like the rest of the ad networks, and many ad-tech players they are evolving themselves into a SAAS stack proposition.

Further investigation’s required to check the validity of their offering. And this underlines just how much the agency’s role has changed. As well as systematically assembling the most relevant media plans, we are now also evaluators, specifiers and implementers of technology on behalf of our clients.

Given the degree of such complexity right now it’s perhaps unsurprising that our relationship with many advertisers is deepening and broadening. An example of such is Maxus’ work for Nestle in India managing social publishing, communications and CRM from within the clients’ offices on a 24 hour basis. And I join one of Nestle’s digital marketing specialists at a dinner hosted by Nicola Mendelsohn from Facebook.

It takes a while (2 long hours of queuing for a taxi!) to get away from the conference venue to the restaurant, but it’s worth it. Mark Read, global head of WPP Digital is there, along with AppNexus founder, Brian O’Kelly, and Brian Lesser, as well as Nicola herself ‘ so I feel like I’m hanging out with the cool kids at school.

Then it’s all over, and it’s cab to hotel, on to the airport, and on to a plane from which I’m completing these words. Thanks for joining me. See you there next year.