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The Big News: Online Advertising 2000
by Ryan Monceaux, Editor In Chief


NEW ORLEANS - Online Advertising 2000 has come and gone, and not much has changed in the Online Advertising business. With harsh weather hampering both the east and west coasts last week, it was difficult for many of the speakers and attendees scheduled to be in New Orleans to make it into town. Instead, a smaller, lesser-known group of presenters attempted to make the struggling conference a success.

Wednesday's debacle
Wednesday's opening of the conference was somewhat of a disappointment, as originally scheduled speakers were slim, and conference-goers were even harder to find. 24/7's President and CEO David Moore, listed on the agenda as part of a roundtable discussion on branding, was unable to make the trip, but 24/7's Craig Swerdloff sat-in for him. Other participants in the roundtable included Jordan Rosner of Pfizer Pharmaceuticals, Charles Lanphear of the H.J. Heinz Company and Bob Bejan of MSN, who led an interesting discussion (practically plug-free) on several topics ranging from broadband to opt-in advertising to ROI and self-measurement.

Right out of the box, moderator Suzan Nolan of BlueSky asked the panel how they thought broadband would transform the way we currently view the Internet. Mr. Rosner said that while he thinks broadband will take on several different forms, he fully expects to see the use of all broadband services (he mentioned the convergence of radio, television and the Internet) to be available all over your house. With wireless technology becoming more advanced and with lower prices on the horizon, Rosner said that the role of the traditional computer may be altered.

"People will not be tethered to their CPU," Rosner said. "With all sorts of wireless technology and with everything converging, I expect that people will have the ability to be in any room in their house and be able to get the information that they want."

An audience member brought up the topic of ROI and how to best calculate it. All of the panelists agreed that each client is different and each circumstance is different. Mr. Rosner gave the example that he measures his ROI not by just the Internet, but through all of the advertising his company does. He said there is no way for Pfizer to specifically tell how large of a part that the Internet plays in sales of products like Viagra, but that at least 15 percent of the drug's sales are done over the Web.
The initial panel discussion proved to be one of the few highlights of the conference as fill-in speakers painfully trudged through their speeches. In all, at least 13 of the scheduled speakers pulled out of the conference, making the itinerary much less appealing than what attendees paid $1495 each for.

Is this Nirvana?
The conference picked up some steam on Thursday morning with another decent panel discussion, this one regarding permission-based marketing.

The panel, moderated by Geoff Smith of ClickAction, was comprised of the following people:

Scott Grafft, Flycast
Derek Scruggs, Message Media
George Burrows, Muller & Burrows
Ken Wruk, YesMail.com
Christine Frye, Exactis.com

Mr. Smith, Mr. Wruk and Ms. Frye were substitutes from the scheduled panel, all replacing someone from their company. Key Compton, CEO of Solbright, was not in attendance and did not have a replacement.

The discussion began with Mr. Smith offering a few tidbits on email marketing, many of which were eye-popping. According to Forrester Research, over $33B will be made in email marketing by the year 2004 and over 200B emails will be sent out by marketers by that time. Smith then asked the panel why the medium would explode like that.

Mr. Grafft opened the discussion saying that high interaction and low friction made marketing via email an easier prospect than by traditional direct mailings.

Mr. Scruggs, who made many valid points by stating the obvious, said that because people opt-in with permission-based marketing, they actually want to see the information being provided and therefore, customers turn into buyers at a much higher rate. Scruggs could not recall exact numbers, but guesstimated that response rates average between 5 and 15 percent through his company's campaigns.

Ms Frye continued on Scruggs' original thought by saying that, "opt-in customers initiate the dialogue. Never before in the history of advertising has there been a more powerful way to begin and cultivate a relationship."

Mr. Burrows decided to play contrary to the rest of the panel and said that he thinks that the pinnacle window for email marketing might have passed us by and that since so many people have gotten into email marketing, the medium has been overwhelmed by constant harassment, something consumers are tired of. Mr. Burrows later defined himself to be a supporter of permission-based marketing but said that he is not enamored by it like others have been.

An audience member asked the panelists why their clients have chosen to add to the clutter of Inboxes on weekdays, when they could wait until the weekends and be one of the few pieces of email. Several of the panelists had ideas on this, but Mr. Scruggs admitted that the space and the medium have not been perfected and that many companies are working on ways to make certain that their clients message is heard by a greater audience.

Several of Thursday afternoon's sessions were cancelled or moved because of the lack of presenters, but hardly anyone noticed: the room was less than a quarter full.

This conference will definitely be one of the forgotten ones in this year's saturated calendar. World Research Group should not be held responsible for all of the problems this week, but the heavy emphasis on email marketing and its differences from direct marketing are not exactly topics that should consume an entire Online Advertising conference. Indeed, if a professional is paying close to $1500 for the two-day event, one would hope that he would know the vast differences between direct marketing and email marketing. With any luck, conference planners will take notes and not repeat the mistakes of this week.




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