Drew Ianni on Getting Traditional(s)
By Wendy McHale
At the last ad:tech I attended back in April, it was such an outstanding event that I kept wondering, "Why aren't the people who should be here, here? Where are the "traditionals"?
Turns out that Drew thinks about the same thing, only for him it's not just a passing thought. Mr. Ianni is responsible for building ad:tech's content. He also selects its keynotes speakers, the moderators and the panelists themselves.
He reminded me that it's really up to each of us to decide whether we want to look ahead or not. His job is to make sure that ad:tech always looks forward. That's its tradition.
However, Drew also shared with me what ad:tech "is" doing, to make it as easy as possible for those kicking and screaming all the way into the present to attend!
Drew, in terms of kicking and screaming, you thrilled us back in April by inviting Cirque Du Soleil to San Francisco's ad:tech to close the show! For as much as ad:tech helps us look into the future, it's your fault sometimes for making it so difficult for some of us to stop looking back :--)
On that note, I'll see you all next week. For those of you who won't be there, you really won't know what you are missing!!
Wendy: Thanks for taking the time to meet with me. How are you?
Drew: I'm doing very well!
Wendy: Before we cover industry events and trends, tell me a little about yourself, what got you interested in new media and the paths you which have led you to ad:tech!
Drew: Well, as with many long-time industry veterans, I sort of fell into the Internet. It was 1994 and a couple friends of mine had a multimedia production agency and they decided to start building web sites and offering Internet services. They asked if I wanted to come over as an account manager. I was instantly hooked and here I am almost fifteen years later still doing "the digital thing".
Wendy: For those who are not fully aware of ad:tech's market position within the industry, could you provide a brief overview of how the organization works, where it is and where it's going? How does it differ from other conference companies with similar goals? How do you choose the topics for various seminars and the people you invite to lead them? What impact does the community of exhibitors influence those decisions?
Drew: ad:tech was founded in 1996 and is arguably the longest running conference and exposition focusing on digital marketing. In the past, I think it's fair to say ad:tech was an "Internet marketing" show but my focus has been to shift our core editorial positioning focusing on how digital is transforming all media and the business of marketing communications. The digital revolution has expanded beyond just "The Internet" in regards to how the media and marketing landscapes are being transformed.
Wendy: I agree.
Drew: In regards to choosing speakers, it all comes down to finding people who have something interesting and relevant to say and offering a range of perspectives on a panel. I try to include a mix of large, established companies and smaller start-up types as well as include some veteran speakers mixed in with new, fresh faces and voices.
Wendy: Few would argue that ad:tech has become the primary forum for interactive advertising technology programs. Your expansion globally is a great indication of its popularity among exhibitors and marketing pros who attend. Some wonder whether or not ad:tech has come of age in terms of attracting traditional agencies/advertisers. What do you think?
Drew: This is something I focus on intently every day. ad:tech is well-known and regarded within the interactive community but it is still surprising to me how many marketing and media professionals on the "traditional" side of the business aren’t aware of ad:tech. I see this is an opportunity and an entirely new constituency for us to reach. It's this group that is truly being impacted by the digital revolution and I am confident they will increasingly see value in our editorial coverage.
Wendy: Over the last couple of years, ad:tech's exhibitors and sponsors seemed to cluster around search, behavioral marketing tools and networks, ad networks, and optimization tools. Yet over the last year, it looks like you’re attracted new types of companies which focus on video streaming, broadband, social communities and wireless are now present. What will the next generation of exhibitors look like?
Drew: I agree. The exhibit floor tends to evolve with the industry and in addition to seeing a lot of the usual suspects, we are seeing quite a few next-generation companies. Companies in the Web 2.0 space, video companies and even a few traditional media companies that are getting out there and promoting their content and assets are starting to exhibit at and sponsor ad:tech and I would expect you will continue to see more of a mix of old and new media companies.
Wendy: With video technology becoming so prominent online, could we imagine ad:tech will have a Cannes conference? How about a presence or direct competitor to the CES (Consumer Electronics Show)? Should ad:tech have a conference for just mobile? How about one just for file sharing and social communities of one type or another? What do you think of single topic conference events?
Drew: ad:tech Cannes would be great! I don't think you will see us trying to compete in Cannes although we did launch ad:tech Paris earlier this year and we look forward to our second annual event in Paris early next year. As you may know, our parent company also owns iMedia and I would expect you would see iMedia continue to take on single-day and the more vertically-focused shows.
Wendy: Virtually all industry associations and trade publications are increasing their frequency by splintering off and focusing on specific topics. You even have virtual trade shows like eComXpo. What are your thoughts on this and how is ad:tech maintaining its command as the primary "must attend" conference?
Drew: I would say this is our largest strategic challenge. It is absolutely remarkable, although not necessarily that surprising, to see how many shows have popped up in the last two years. I think it's a tribute to our entire organization that we have not only stayed competitive but we continue to grow ad:tech year-over-year here in North America and globally.
Wendy: You've had amazing growth.
Drew: In my opinion, the key to the entire show is insuring that our editorial coverage at the conference remains very relevant and high-caliber. If the conference loses relevancy and attendance drops either in quantity or quality, that will ultimately affect the exhibit and then it’s a downward spiral from there. You can be assured we all operate from the Andy Grove point-of-view that "only the paranoid survive".
Wendy: How do you decide whether to partner with a trade association or media partner who is also competing for the same share of budget relative to registration/attendance fees set aside by exhibitors and attendees? What has the market reception been to the coming together of iMedia and ad:tech? What kind of leverage does this give you, if any?
Drew: I realize that some of our partners have competing shows and products. But, as anyone who "grew up digital" like I have, it continues to be more important that we all are doing what we can to work together to continue to shift more dollars into the digital arena. We still face resistance and non-believers and I firmly believe that a continuing rising tide will continue to lift all boats.
Wendy: Give me an example.
Drew: Take the IAB. I think Randall Rothenberg is doing a fantastic job and there is no doubt that the MIXX show is a high-quality event that makes my job more difficult. Having said that, our strategic goals are aligned and I think it is important for ad:tech to give the IAB a strong platform to communicate its message and, in an effort to do this, our opening keynote on Wednesday is a State of the Industry session presented by the IAB and moderated by Mr. Rothenberg.
Wendy: I noticed that.
Drew: Ultimately, I believe if both MIXX and ad:tech have very strong shows, this "one-two punch" will ultimately bring more interest and dollars into the digital arena and both of our organizations will benefit strategically and financially.
Wendy: Interesting. Anyone who has been in this space for some time is confronted with a variety of truisms, such as "You see the same people at all the shows" or "Everyone is talking about the same thing." These are broad generalizations but you must agree there is a grain of truth to them. How do you deal with "conference fatigue" among both exhibitors and attendees?
Drew: I agree and it is very important to keep ad:tech fresh. I would say our strategic repositioning also resulted in fresh editorial as we features sessions such as TV 3.0, Publishing in the Digital Age, and Defining the New Media Currency. In regards to speakers, since my arrival, I have focused on bringing in some fresh faces while also continuing to feature some industry veterans who always deliver as speakers and moderators.
Wendy: We were at ad:tech San Francisco and witnessed the Lifetime Achievement Awards event, which was kicked off with an exotic performance by Cirque du Soleil. It was an incredible spectacle and worthy of anything you could see in Vegas or Broadway. In essence, you have to be part serious-conference company and part wild-entertainment company. How do you do it? Who’s your booking agent? Is there a velvet rope in ad:tech’s future?
Drew: We have a truly fantastic and capable staff and a dedicated team that focuses solely on the awards. You can expect some more exciting things for the awards show in 2008.
Wendy: Really? Wow. San Fran's is going to be hard to beat. Like what?
Drew: You'll have to wait and see!
Wendy: LOL. The market is once again ripe for pricy investments and/or acquisitions, the most recent of course is Microsoft's investment in Facebook. Could you foresee an ad:tech for VC’s and other Wall Street types who are trying to figure out which tech company would fit snuggly in their portfolio?
Drew: Having spent some time on Wall Street as an equity research analyst, I have included programming that I feel would be of interest to Wall Street and other investment professionals. As a result, we have seen an influx of financial professionals and this year at ad:tech New York, I do know we have analysts and banking professionals from many first-tier venture capital firms and investment banks.
Wendy: What's going on in Washington and what factors do advertisers need to be aware of as it relates to their brand advertising? Does ad:tech play a role there? Should it?
Drew: At ad:tech San Francisco, we did feature a panel titled: "Dispatch from DC: Big Brother is Watching". It was not as well-attended as I had hoped and I think this is a reflection of the fact that many in our industry are not really paying attention to what is happening in Washington. And I firmly believe we should be paying closer attention and I will continue to look to include panels that talk about these very important issues.
Wendy: What's the most exciting thing that you’ve done since taking on the role as Chairman? The most depressing?
Drew: During my first twelve months, I programmed seven shows on three continents, including three show launches. In addition to meeting many of my industry colleagues here in North America, it was a real thrill to travel throughout South America, Australia, and Asia and have the opportunity to catch up on what is happening in these established and emerging digital markets. It's been a great ride and I have yet to find myself depressed. I do miss my bed sometimes!
Wendy: Please forgive this completely unrelated tangential question: Do you believe in brands "letting go" and if so what does that mean to you? An example?
Drew: Well, the brands have no choice about "letting go". If they think they are fully in control and can keep power away from the consumer, they are only fooling themselves. The consumer continues to gain more control over their brand and media consumption relationships and experiences and this mega-trend is only accelerating.
Wendy: I think you're right. Your career path would be hard to match in terms of having an insiders view to the business from Wall Street, from a Madison Avenue agency, research analysis and now trade industry conference company. What advice would you give a person graduating college today about choosing their career? What kind of background, attitude and qualifications would somebody need to follow you in a similar career road path?
Drew: LOL. If you looked at my resume you would sit there and try to process it then look up at me-as many recruiters have-and give me a perplexing look. I hate to sound like the old man who walked to school in the snow with no shoes but there was no Internet, as we know it, when I was in school.
Wendy: That's true for many of us.
Drew: I actually majored in Political Science. My career developed in a way I never could have predicted and there certainly is no blueprint for such a career path. In regards to our current environment, I would strongly encourage any recent graduate or young professional to be a part of this digital revolution. As a Silicon Valley native, I would say it is still a great time to be an entrepreneur and if you have a great idea, go for it and do it now while the market is still fertile and ripe for innovations and breakthrough ideas.
Wendy: I obviously agree! Thanks, Drew and have a great show in New York next week!
Drew: You're welcome, Wendy. My pleasure.