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TALLINN GM REPORT
GM TALLINN

Wednesday, Thursday, Sharing Best Practice, Friday, Workshops, Saturday, Publishers’ Meeting, Sales Managers’ Workshop, Business Meeting, Gala Party.

As usual, the sun was shining as Lucie and Shay arrived in Tallinn on Sunday afternoon to set up for the Spring 2009 General Meeting. With the help of our kind hosts on the ground, Margus Tomberg and his team at Sanoma Digital, we had secured a great selection of venues, entertainment and activities for the delegates from more than 27 countries who would be joining us later in the week. We quickly settled into the beautiful modern Swissôtel, and very much appreciated the spectacular views over the city and lake from the 26th floor. Monday was taken up with meetings with the team-building providers, the organizers of the Medieval Feast and then finally with the hotel where we met the team who would be looking after us throughout the event. ICMA Head Office takes its responsibility to check out a destination on behalf of its members very seriously and so we tested a rather good Italian restaurant, Bocca, on Monday night (all for your benefit of course!).

The ICMA Office was set up on the Tuesday, bags stuffed, badges prepared, presentations photo-copied, speaker gifts wrapped and last-minute “Sharing Best Practice” data compiled (one day Lucie will get this done before we leave Amsterdam). Florentine flew in on Tuesday night.

WEDNESDAY
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Instead of the Committee Meeting on Wednesday we held an impromptu Budapest “Brain-Storming Hour” where publishers suggested topics, formats and speakers for the next General Meeting in Budapest 11-14 November 2009. Thank you to all who shared their ideas and thoughts with us, we really appreciate your input and time.

After the Meet-and-Greet lunch, it was off to the team-building afternoon, a Hansa Merchant’s trading game throughout the winding streets and alleyways of Old Tallinn where teams had to solve clues and undertake physical challenges to earn themselves the title of a Hansa Merchant. Now, normally, any team which has Martha wins these things but despite Gaby’s cunning use of the baseball cap, superior spice-identification skills and their sheer will to win, Florentine’s team, featuring the irrepressible Loren Dalton, got the crucial extra points for their rendition of “If you’re happy and you know it…” (in Estonian, see box on left for the words) and so won the challenge. A great way to explore the city on a sunny afternoon… Delegates gathered on the 6th floor of the Swissôtel to hear Rob Paterson, ICMA Chairperson, welcome delegates to the Welcome Reception and Dinner where we enjoyed the local aperitif, Vana Tallinn, a rum-flavoured liqueur, before tucking into an extensive buffet. People were enjoying themselves so much that Shay had to eventually eject them from the room so the hotel could get in to set up for the next day!

THURSDAY
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Thursday morning dawned bright and early, and once Rob had kicked us off with the story of the obstacles that he encountered whilst trying to book a holiday villa for his family, illustrating the shortcomings of the available classified offerings in this sector, he pointed out that past experience is not necessarily a guide to future performance (i.e. don’t be a turkey),

The Keynote Address was given by Jacob Aqraou, General Manager and VP of eBay Classifieds (owners of Marktplaats.nl, Loquo, Gumtree, Mobile.de, Kijiji and recent acquisitions in Denmark, Den Blä Avis and Bilbasen). Their business now attracts 100 million unique visitors, and generates over a quarter of a billion dollars annually. With the beliefs that classifieds lack the crucial entertainment factor, and that social networking can teach us a lot, eBay seem set to launch more innovative products and ideas within their existing portfolio, starting with Gumtree later this year. Jacob was succeeded by Larry Kilman of the World Association of Newspapers, a last-minute stand-in for Martha Stone, whose presentation of WAN’s latest research showed some very sobering statistics for the newspaper business.

After the coffee-break, it was on to a new format, a series of presentations which focused on innovation. Two featured sites for the real-estate sector in the Netherlands and Poland, but from the different angles of functionality and business, and the third was a user-generated business directory from the UK. Jeroen Wilhelm from Funda.nl was first up with the latest and greatest developments from the Netherlands’ leading property site, ranging from Google StreetView to a cool 3-D technology created from sketched plans, to Mobile Augmented Reality where you take a photo with your mobile phone, and then the smart “layer” displays the available properties. Funda’s always superb value! Jeroen was followed by Iwona Polog of Trader.com Polska who walked delegates through the changed strategy of their property portal Domiporta to respond to the economic crisis, some very innovative benefits development for advertisers. Finally, we welcomed Marc Lyne from Brownbook, a unique wiki-type business directory which can be provided as a white-label product to underpin a classifieds offering. Loads of questions and much conversation about these presentations as delegates drifted into lunch.

HARING BEST PRACTICE
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The “Sharing Best Practice” session, this time extended to 2 x 60 minutes, and with a separate track for sales managers, ran for the remainder of the afternoon. In the Publishers’ track we had a record amount of data submitted from 30 companies and a total of 38 participants – thanks very much to Felix, Sidharth, Rob and Josef for facilitating each group’s discussions. The overall score of nearly 96% satisfaction demonstrates how valuable participants find this session, and we’ll be looking hard at how we can develop and improve this format to deliver even more next time. The sales managers were not to be left out either, and a compact and bijou group, led by Santtu Poutanen of Sanoma (many thanks for stepping up for this Santtu!) tackled a series of sales-oriented metrics, and held some very interesting conversations around the subject of sales force organization, management and remuneration.

The evening saw us all stroll into town for a Medieval Feast held at Olde Hansa in the heart of Old Tallinn. After the ritual hand-washing, Felix was elected unopposed as Master for the evening, breaking and blessing the bread for the group. Course after course of delicious dishes were passed down the tables and the wine flowed freely with the conversation throughout the evening.

FRIDAY
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Despite some sore heads (the evidence of enjoying the hospitality of the Horisont 30th floor cocktail bar late into the night, and the influence of a small Irish-led contingent), there was a remarkably good turnout promptly at 9am for the first futurologist that ICMA had ever featured. Magnus Lindqvist, who prefers the monicker of trend-spotter, was full of energy and insights as he demonstrated quite how resistant we all are to change and how we believe that everything that we’re living through now is an exception. Magnus distilled his ideas into 10 core precepts – Punk Capitalism, Strangers Working Together, Omnimedia, Super Specialization, Everything is Embedded, Path of Least Resistance, Games and Gaming, Advertising Revolution, Slow Media and Cultural Revolution. Lots of incredible “Of course!” moments throughout the session, and everyone one left with plenty to mull over and discuss.

Friday’s second session was kicked off by Russ Cohn of Google who shared some of the search giant’s thoughts on the principal trends in classifieds and the tools and platforms that can support the classifieds experience. Asked what Google’s interest in this sector was, Russ said that Google had no intention of setting itself up as a content producer or publishers, they just saw their efforts as part of the wider mission to organize the world’s information. Kieron Matthews of the Internet Advertising Bureau in the UK then introduced the topic of behavioural advertising, and explained the concepts, benefits and pitfalls of this new way of targeting online ads. Kieron held the view that there is a big disconnect between the average online user who almost always opts to receive more relevant ads when given the choice, and the media and politicians who whip themselves up into a Big Brother frenzy over the issue. This is a growing advertising sector and now that we’ve heard the theory, we will try to find a publisher who can talk to us about their real-life experience with this model.

Before the pre-lunch session, Loren Dalton of PennySaverUSA.com shared with delegates a promotional music video that Harte-Hanks had produced using MC Hammer’s track “Can’t Touch This”. Whilst delegates were greatly enjoying the sight and sound of the performers, we were unfortunately visited by an irate lady from the next-door conference who didn’t seem to be enjoying it as much as we were 🙁

The final topic before lunch was, quite possibly, one of the most memorable sessions that ICMA has ever programmed. Ciler Yildiz of Trader Media East brought together 4 “Millennials” (i.e. people born after 1982) to talk to us about how they interacted with technology, viewed and consumed media, and lived their lives. To give you just a flavour of the conversation, it opened with Oscar Coniel saying “Asking me about the role of technology in my life is like asking me what the role of my arm is”. Lots of questions from the audience, some met with incredulity (“Why would I sell my mobile phone?”) or blank stares (“No, I would never read a printed newspaper”) and some surprising (“I’ve only just started with Twitter”). The questions could have gone on all afternoon, such was the interest in this group – many thanks to Oscar, Laura, Kristen and Martin for sharing their views with us.

WORKSHOPS
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The afternoon was taken up with three rotating round-table workshops on Google Analytics, Usability and Mobile, of which delegates could attend two of the three.

Google Analytics was led by Tonis Hinnosaar of local internet marketing company Altex who presented an in-depth analysis of the latest and greatest developments in this useful tool. Whilst we will continue to feature Google Analytics in future programmes as it is clearly an essential tool on which to base business decisions, we will work harder at getting the balance between business and technology right as this session proved quite technical at times. Tonis’s colleague at Altex, Carol, and Hegle from Trinidad Consulting led the Usability workshop where they presented a thorough overview of usability principles and then a series of reviews of various classified sites in order to critique the usability of the browsing and ad-inputting experience. The third workshop on Mobile was led by Pekka Ketonen of Sanoma on only his second General Meeting, and came out top of all the workshops in the evaluations with particularly high scores for relevance and interest in the topic.

Friday night was left free for delegates to make their own plans, we know that several headed to Bocca and other destinations in the Old Town to enjoy Estonian hospitality at its best.

SATURDAY
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The final day of the General Meeting kicked off with Helmar Hipp chairing the Publishers’ Meeting, and Peter Lamb and Gaby Martin del Campo co-chairing the Sales Managers’ Workshop.

PUBLISHERS’ MEETING
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Helmar had prepared a comprehensive programme (for those who haven’t chaired a Publishers’ Meeting, a great deal of work goes into it before the day itself). Pointing out that almost all participants still generated the bulk of their revenues from print activities, and conducting a snap straw poll of trends in circulation (65% losing over 10% in annual copy sales, 20% losing between 0-10% and 15% “the liars” 😉 gaining circulation), the group discussed the initiatives that they had launched to support their print activities. These largely fell into radical cost-cutting, staff layoffs, increased process automation and exploiting synergies. There was a general recognition that “Boy, we’ve become inefficient!” and many companies were looking at the economic crisis as an opportunity to get fit and lean in a relatively short time-period. A run-down of some of the best (and worst, because it’s important to know what doesn’t work as well) ideas can be found on the icmaonline Twitter feed – please follow us, it’s well worth it!

The second session discussed some of the new online business models (and some of the online players who don’t seem to have business models yet). Starting with obvious competitors such as eBay Classifieds and moving on to Google and whether becoming an AdWords re-seller is a viable strategy, the conversation turned to social networks and whether they would find workable business and revenue models. Drawing on the Millennials panel where the consensus was very much that Generation Y is not prepared to pay for anything, participants agreed that “Everything that can be free, will be free” but Derval from Primeiramao wisely added “Everything that can be charged, will be charged”.

Helmar closed off the meeting after lunch with a detailed presentation of the experience of Quoka.de over the past 2 years. The team in Germany had completely changed the business model, the site design and flow, plus many of the processes behind it. They had gone “free” ditching the subscription model, stopped differentiating between private and commercial advertisers, and invested heavily in top-notch SEO and SEM, as well as becoming a significant AdSense player. It was a huge (but calculated) gamble which paid off big time with all the key indicators now heading very much in the right direction and ahead of projections. This was such a good case-study that I’m sure we will be re-visiting it over the next few conferences to learn as much as we can from the German experience.

Sahin Tulga, CEO of Trader Media East, was proposed by Josef Kogler as chair for the ICMA Publishers’ Meeting at the Budapest General Meeting, and accepted the nomination.

SALES MANAGERS’ WORKSHOP
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Peter and Gaby and their “compact and bijou” group in the Sales Managers’ Workshop were working no less hard. As with previous SMW’s the value of the intense interactivity between participants came through clearly with all evaluations citing this as the most important aspect. The group discussed best practice in both sales management and organization, and also in online revenue generation with plenty of real-life examples and ideas being traded freely.

BUSINESS MEETING
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The Business Meeting at the end of the afternoon was one of the best-attended in recent years. After approving the 2008 accounts, the discussion turned to how the economic crisis has impacted the Association’s business model, and the participants agreed that, rather as in their businesses, this was a real opportunity to re-think and re-structure the business model, Head Office activities and customer offering. A number of the Committee who had been planning to stand down agreed to put their names forward again for re-election, and the new Committee for 2009-2011 was voted in by acclamation – Rob Paterson (Chairperson), Josef Kogler, Ciler Yildiz, Koen Vandaele, Pekka Ketonen, Martha de la Torre and Sidharth Gupta. Gerald Coniel and Orestes Baez also offered their support as additional contributors to the task that the new Committee has set itself. If anyone else would like to share their thoughts on how you want YOUR Association to develop, please do contact Lucie and we will take all your suggestions and ideas on board.

GALA PARTY
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The Gala Party, held at the Brotherhood of the Black Heads and hosted by Sanoma Digital, was a smaller affair than normal but quite possibly one of the most fun ever. From the historic setting, to the welcome from the MC and chef, from the wonderful big band music and the delicious food, from the silly games played between the various tables to out-do each other to the great DJ and some seriously “unusual” dancing as the night wore on – thank you Margus!

Before we knew it we were back at the hotel and Ciler was persuading the hotel to bust open a crate of red wine and re-open the bar – a great end to a great GM!

Thank you to all the speakers, facilitators, panelists and chair people, the sponsors and exhibitors, the Committee and to Sanoma Digital for being such wonderful hosts. But most of all thank you to the delegates who make every General Meeting even better than the last.

See you in Budapest – 11-14 November 2009!