I always start these reports with “The sun shone as Head Office arrived in Orlando/New Delhi/The Hague…” and on this occasion, I feel I need to say it even more as on Wednesday when most of the delegates started arriving in Cascais, the heavens opened, the wind howled and the temperature dropped 10 degrees. But when Lucie, Karina, Craig and new recruit Shay, who will be replacing Karina when she leaves us at the end of May, woke up on Monday morning in the Hotel Miragem Cascais, the weather was kind, and some of us even had a swim in the wonderful infinity pool overlooking the Atlantic.
After meeting the hotel, the wine-tasting company and the AV company, we set up the office and braced ourselves for the first influx of delegates at the registration desk on Thursday. Old friends greeted each other, introduced new colleagues and caught up with the latest news and gossip as they settled down to lunch before boarding the bus to Colares for the wine-tasting.
The coach trip took us through Sintra, a beautiful mountain town with imposing palaces and spectacular views into the valleys below. We were taken into the huge open cellar of the main wine co-operative in Colares where the cellar-master presented four of the local wines for delegates to try. After much sipping (and no spitting that I could see!), the French took over and Gerald and Matthieu successfully identified the mystery wines in the final blind-tasting.
Welcome Reception and Dinner
We relocated the Welcome Reception to the Oceanus Bar in the hotel as more late-arriving delegates trickled in, including Sally and Melanie who emerged from the spa swathed in dressing-gowns just as everyone arrived. Jill welcomed everyone, said a special thank you to ISV GmbH which was sponsoring the event to mark their 20th anniversary, introduced the new members and first-timers, and outlined the programme for the next few days. Everyone settled down to dinner in the Restaurant Cascais, the football team finally arrived back with a minimum number of injuries, and we all repaired to the bar for a few well-earned drinks.
Bright and early on Friday, delegates gathered in the main conference room for the start of the Plenary sessions. Jill introduced three new members who briefly presented their businesses – Martha de la Torre from El Clasificado in the USA, Timo Lahti and Tomi Tontti from Alma Media Interactive in Finland and Saleh AlHumaidan from Alyaum Newspapers in Saudi Arabia – before moving onto the joint keynote presentation from Jim Townsend and Peter Rees which focused on the challenges of competition that our industry is facing, on both sides of the Atlantic. Time rather got away from us at this stage and we broke for coffee before Peter’s presentation.
Peter made his usual excellent presentation and he was followed by an erudite and detailed session from Ed Strapagiel of Kubas Consultants who discussed the different approaches to advertising pricing that are open to publishers which will help them improve pricing discipline and maximize their margins. Clara Llamas of Trader Media East turned theory into practice with examples of how she and her team had revised the pricing policy for different products in Russia, Croatia and Poland. Her most important point? One size (of pricing policy) really doesn’t fit all.
David St John-Tradewell of Spannerworks, a UK-based SEO company, presented some thoughts on what search and SEO should mean for classified publishers. He identified three main factors of content, architecture and link reputation (link equity) and highlighted the fact that search terms used for classified sites are much longer and more complex than for other products (e.g. “Nissan Micra, 3-door, red, electric windows, Brixton London” as opposed to “cheap car insurance”).
After returning from lunch, Koen Vandaele of Koopjeskrant demonstrated some software that digitized magazines and explained how he had used this to solve several business challenges such as reducing postage costs, maintaining control of a niche vertical such as pets and developing new opportunities such as contract publishing. Koen was the first volunteer for this new slot where members can demonstrate how they have applied new technology to best effect – submissions being taken for Amsterdam now, mail Lucie on email@example.com with your suggestions.
A little light relief now with the personals panel with a highly entertaining presentation from Felix Erken of JunkMail which largely focused on the story of Jill, Jack and their offspring Gerald, before moving onto some more serious observations on the monetization of the personals vertical. Felix was succeeded by Damon Russell of Telecom Express, a provider of voice services, who shared his deep experience of the online dating market (professional not personal!) and the shifting demographics and multiple channels that are changing the marketplace. To conclude, Helmut Pollinger of Ocasiao took delegates through Lovemail.pt, the Ocasiao personals application, and demonstrated some of the functionalities.
Sally Winfield, the newly-created Executive Director of Loot, closed off the first afternoon session with a presentation on Loot’s circulation strategy as they moved from 5 issues per week to just 3 issues (Monday, Wednesday and Friday). Sally walked us through the analysis of the change and the steps they took to mitigate any possible drop in advertising revenues such as educating salespeople and advertisers that the three issues represented the same number of eyeballs as the previous five issues.
After the coffee-break, delegates broke into three workshops which were repeated twice. Peter Rees ran a session on website usability for users, where he took delegates through a critique of various homepages, and illustrated several common faults. Dylan Fuller of FAST argued that as over 70% of searches actually bypass search engines and are conducted directly within a website, publishers should pay more attention to enterprise search than SEO. And finally, David Waghorne of Northcliffe shared his own unique take on people motivation.
Mar do Guincho
And it was off to the Mar do Guincho restaurant in the dunes on the other side of Cascais for lively evening of smashing crab with our very own hammers, and tucking into delicious cataplana (Portuguese fish stew). The view was amazing and everyone had a fabulous time before piling back into the buses and heading back to the hotel bar where Raimund entertained us (all too briefly) on the piano.
A good turnout at a reasonable hour for the Publishers Meeting and the Sales Managers’ Workshop on Saturday. Sidharth Gupta of Free-Ads and GETTIT chaired an excellent meeting, posing many provocative questions to delegates about the competitive threats that they are facing and their competence in leveraging technology to their advantage. Everyone contributed and some interesting comments came out, especially from Helmut and Gabino who answered the same question completely differently (and they’re from the same company!). In another room, Ian Partington and Joe Kidger of Friday-Ad, led a large group of sales managers in discussing online revenue generating ideas, selling free distribution and motivating sales teams.
At lunch, Lucie introduced the next GM destination, Amsterdam, which will take place on 31 October to 3 November. The theme will be 100% focused on online and technology issues, and will extend for an extra day (as in Munich). A new feature will be a special bench-marking session which will help publishers get behind the numbers and understand what they need to do to outperform their peers. Several bags of delicious Dutch candies later and we were all fuelled up for the afternoon sessions.
The Business Meeting was one of the best attended in recent years as, in addition to the approval of the 2006 accounts and appointment of the auditor for 2007, there were important motions on spinning-off PHOENIX which was passed unanimously, and a further motion on opening up the Association to all types of publishers which was passed with a 93% majority. The Committee elections were held, and Rob Paterson of Friday-Ad (UK) was elected Chairperson, with David Waghorne, Northcliffe (UK), Josef Kogler, Inform Media (Austria), Mike Katajamaki, Ilta-Sanomat (Finland), Koen Vandaele, Koopjeskrant (Belgium), Ramon van den Ende, Ocasiao (Portugal) and Genevieve Lebrun, Trader Corporation (Canada), all elected to fill the six vacant Committee positions.
Finally a vote of thanks and a gift was presented to Jill Armer, outgoing ICMA Chairperson, and a presentation was made to Karina van Lenthe, the ICMA Communications and Events Manager who will leave ICMA at the end of May.
A quick power-nap later (at least for some of us) and it was on to the buses to head off for the Gala Party. Helmut had booked us into the marvelous Penha Longa, a former royal residence and monastery, and we entered through a chapel into a beautiful room which looked like it had just been iced. The canapés were exotic and delicious, and the champagne flowed before we were ushered through to the vaulted room for dinner where Helmut welcomed us all and shared a few thoughts on the meaning of revolution in our industry and how we should deal with it. Rob Paterson thanked Helmut for his incredible hospitality and presented him with a gift from ICMA for all his hard work.
A fine dinner later, and there was a real treat for us all; a traditional Portuguese “fado” singer and group. Fado has been described as “Portuguese blues” music but that doesn’t even begin to do it justice, all the Portuguese guests went insane with appreciation as they joined in each chorus. And then the dancing started… Ramon eventually got us all onto the buses at about 1.30am and a group of dedicated party-goers headed off into Estoril and then Cascais until close on dawn.
The Lisbon GM was one of the best in recent years for networking, socializing and exchanging information and experiences amongst a very diverse group of delegates. We say it every time but each host raises the bar even higher for the next, thank you, Helmut and Ocasiao, for all your exceptional hospitality.
And thanks to all the delegates, speakers, exhibitors and guests for making it such a great experience – see you in Amsterdam!