Venice Media Festival: Roving media exec reports mysterious absence

MPG CEO John Domas left Toronto to find Venice windy and cold as he joined an international throng of agency and client-side delegates to be duly informed that content is key. Yet he spotted a lack of it on the media fest's agenda.

From as far away as Japan, United Arab Emirates, South Africa and Russia, delegates came to attend the second annual Venice Media Festival. In fact, the delegate numbers more than doubled last year’s tally and client participation was three times higher.

On the first day, we attended ‘Thought Leadership Sessions,’ heard multiple speeches and were encouraged to interact with the speakers either by voting or submitting questions via the festival’s wireless infrastructure.

‘Content. Content. Content’ was repeated throughout the day, as in: ‘If you have the content, then there will always be consumers there for your media form.’ However, on the first day of the festival, content was unfortunately lacking. There were, of course, some highlights, but overall the festival’s first day left something to be desired.

But I, for one, will not turn my back on a festival that we, the media agencies, need and must support. This festival represents our businesses and our future, and we must be the ones to push for its further development and improvement. I am quite sure Cannes had its hiccups in its infancy, and I personally remember attending the One Show in NYC before it truly became recognized as a ‘festival.’

Of course, we heard a lot today about new media. Yet on day one, festival organizers failed to round up even one Generation Y new media guru or founder. It felt a bit like we were listening to the grownups’ interpretation of the subject. Facebook was discussed, but no one spent time analyzing the fact that its early users were in fact a trend-setting niche group of young people.

People are talking about how these same young trend-setters, loyal users today, might desert the brand as it becomes more mainstream. Yet we heard lengthy pitches from Facebook’s global sales director, Mike Murphy, about the endless benefits for our clients’ investments. Does history have a way of repeating itself? Maybe, maybe not. But let’s all remember the turbulence Nike went through for a few years when Mom and Dad starting wearing the swoosh.

Jonah Bloom (the well-respected Ad Age journalist who also attended our CMDC conference last week) put Facebook’s Murphy on the hot seat. He asked him about the possibility of his company plateauing, and the risk from MySpace after its announced new partnership with the music industry. However, Murphy was well prepared with facts and figures to prove otherwise.

A positive note we learned is that Facebook will begin to allow the portability of one’s online profile to other sites some time in 08′ or ’09. This is a user-friendly offer which will only increase the way we use social media for eCommerce, etc.

The most interesting comment I heard today came from Chuck Porter, of Crispin Porter Bogusky, who said, ‘New technology has only made it that much easier for consumers to ignore your brand.’ Ouch! That’s a fact, but it still hurts to hear it.

As we all know, blogs, social media networks, etc., are often used by consumers who have less and less need for, and/or are tired of, mainstream media. And interruption is not a good media strategy to reach them. So the challenge is to reach these users unobtrusively with communications they will either use or find beneficial, not with more banner ads that invade their social space.

There was some good news. Modern media is being put on the BIG stage. I think we’ll all learn a lot by sitting back and watching how it’s used, both strategically and viciously, during the US presidential run-up. So far, the race shows a 64% increase in ad spending on modern media compared to this time four years ago – with over US $73 million spent in online already.

Tomorrow looks more promising. In the morning, there’s an Agency CEO Hotseat Session, when CEOs from the world’s most powerful media agencies will convene to discuss four major issues facing their industry sector today: Planning Versus Buying, New Forms of Content, Competition & Consolidation and Media Taking the Lead.

Afterwards, delegates will choose between four Thought Leader Sessions: Increase Your Media Efficiency, Digital Futures for Out Of Home, Printing Pressures: Facing the Future and Managing the Three Screens.

In the afternoon, delegates will get to choose between four additional Thought Leader Sessions: ‘Playing Around. . . Advertising Through Gaming; Sustainable Communication Strategies; Brands and Bands – DIY, Do or Die; and Behavior Targeting.

During the closing session, New Media Business Models, delegates will listen to and participate in a debate about new methods of trading, new remuneration models and upcoming new definitions of media value – with leaders from Nokia, MSN, Anomaly, a co-founder of MySpace who went on to found Adknowledge, a Spot Runner-like company for online. Then it’s off to the Gala.

John Domas is CEO of Toronto-based MPG.