A couple of weeks ago I took part in an event organised by the US-based ad technology business Pubmatic. My role was to moderate a session on what the hosts called “The Progressive Advertiser.” The notion was simple – to debate what we could learn from forward-thinking advertisers when it came to data management and analytics, and to online buying of space. Were they for example starting to bypass the agency groups?

At the start of our session I played one of the oldest tricks in the book: “Can all advertisers here, progressive or otherwise, raise their hands?” Pubmatic had done a fine job bringing together what must have been around 200 digital specialists (and me). But there wasn’t a single advertiser present.

A few days later Mediatel hosted an event around automated trading. I wasn’t at that one but I understand that that too attracted somewhere around zero advertisers.

So what we have here are two examples of events around a topic of interest and concern to advertisers (judging from recent comments from advertiser trade bodies) at which none of the interested and concerned showed up.

Now I know full well that there are many, many events and conferences, and that it’s impossible to attend all of them. I also know that some of these events are expensive and take place in exotic parts of the world. If I was an advertiser I too would think twice about sending someone away to an event for several days at a cost running into the thousands of pounds.

But the Pubmatic event was free. The Mediatel event was as good as free. Both were in London. Both lasted half-a-day. Maybe these are not typical examples; maybe there are other media events of which I am unaware and which are overwhelmed by advertiser delegates. But I doubt it.

I would have thought that events like these offer advertisers a good opportunity to learn about the issues; to debate them with those in a position to influence events at their organizations, and maybe even to start to change behaviour. It was a shame they stayed away; yet it was ever thus, at least in the UK. (I accept that advertisers in the USA for all sorts of reasons may well behave a little differently.)

There have always been a few individuals working for advertisers who come along to media events. Maybe they’re ex-agency people; maybe they’re seeing old friends; maybe they’re coming along for free, or maybe they’re flattered at being asked to be on a platform. Or, just maybe they see attending these events, learning from thought leaders and sharing ideas as an important part of their role. These events help them to be up-to-date and informed with the latest developments in an industry in which their companies invest very large amounts of money.

But the sense I get is that these are individuals in a senior enough position to follow their professional interests. As and when they move on from their organizations, the organization stops attending.

Oddly (or maybe not at all oddly), there doesn’t seem to be any problem attracting advertiser delegates to Cannes for the annual ad festival on the basis (correct) that it’s important to keep up to date with the latest in creative thinking.

The media business has always been rather fond of talking to itself in a language few understand. I know I’m always more inclined to hire the electrician I understand over the one who confuses me with jargon. We all need to improve the way we communicate with our clients. Involvement and engagement is a good thing – or so I hear at media conferences.

Brian Jacobs spent over 35 years in advertising, media and research agencies including spells atBrian Jacobs Leo Burnett (UK, EMEA, International Media Director), Carat International (Managing Director), Universal McCann (EMEA Director) and Millward Brown (EVP, Global Media). He has worked in the UK, EMEA and globally out of the USA. His experience covers shifts from full-service ad agencies to media agencies; from traditional single-commercial-channel TV to multi-faceted digital channels; and from media planning to multi-disciplinary communication planning. Brian can be reached at brian@bjanda.com.

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