Ad:tech-goers get down to business

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CHICAGO - Last week proved that the Windy City is Ad:tech's kind of town.


The interactive marketing show July 11-12 attracted 3,000 delegates - up 50 percent from last year - and 84 exhibitors who displayed a fervor and excitement reminiscent of the dot-com heydays.


"There are people who are coming from all across the United States," said Mike Benedek, vice president of business development at AlmondNet, a New York company that serves paid search ads to online consumers based on recent searches. "I'm meeting people from the West Coast and the East Coast and the Midwest, even people down the block from you in New York, because people are busy. But you come to a conference in Chicago, it's a natural venue for getting together. Everyone traveling to the show is trying to get ROI."


Attendance in Chicago was half that of the preceding Ad:tech San Francisco, and the number of exhibitors under a third. But the agenda was as comprehensive as previous shows, and exhibitors a representative sample of the key players in interactive advertising, marketing and technology. All told, 38 sessions were held, with keynotes from senior executives at Procter & Gamble Co., DaimlerChrysler, Nestle Purina and Motorola. Agency- and supplier-side executives sat on panels hosted on several floors at the Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers.


Discussions this year centered on ad measurability, blogs, RSS, marketing mix analysis, digital television, persona marketing for multimodal consumers, word-of-mouth marketing, site visitor conversions, e-mail marketing, mobile, advergaming and, of course, search engine marketing. The show's theme, as with the spring Ad:tech San Francisco and this fall's Ad:tech New York, is "The Age of Engagement."


"It's what we deal with when the mass media becomes fractured," said Susan Bratton, CEO of marketing consultancy Cendara and chair of Ad:tech.


Those walking the exhibit floor could encounter AOL, Atlas, BlueLithium, Business.com, Casale Media, Commission Junction, Did-it.com, EmailLabs, ePrize, Google, Hitwise, icrossing, Impaqt, iProspect, Kanoodle, Miva, MSN, Oneupweb, Omniture, RevShare, SEO Inc., Tribal Fusion, ValueClick and Yahoo Search Marketing.


Search again dominated the exhibitor ranks, proving they had the budgets and technology to beat.


Melissa Burgess, director of business development at search engine marketing agency Impaqt, Pittsburgh, is a veteran attendee of the show. What did she think of the quality of traffic to her booth?


"Usually day twos are a lot better because the first wave of people are filtered out on day one," she said. "Usually here, and even at Ad:tech San Francisco, we had lots of lead generators, lots of content aggregators. It's a lot of people in the casinos and the adult industry looking to further their presence online."


Burgess saw no difference between this and the San Francisco conference. But she emphasized that exhibitors need to do more pre-show research to gauge attendees' needs.


"Analyze who's going to be here," she said. "Make an effort to go to the sessions because that's where the people you want to talk to are going to be."


Fathom Online, a search marketing agency based in New York, reported many client and press meetings, with several inquiries from prospects. Founder/CEO Chris Churchill noticed differences between this year's Ad:tech Chicago and last year's.


"The companies are more polished, the booths are nicer, their value propositions better articulated," Churchill said. "It's got large advertisers, everybody from P&G and General Motors to all the car companies, and [Chicago] hosts very large iconic American companies and yet it's slightly off the beaten path."


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