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Miami GM Report
GM Miami

Delegates began arriving at the Trump International several days before the start of the conference, both to cope better with the jet-lag but also (we suspect) to enjoy the fantastic beachfront location in Sunny Isles and the brilliant Florida weather. Lucie, Shay, Marc and Jean-Paul set up the office on Tuesday in good time for Wednesday’s registration and the Meet-and-Greet lunch (the first of many delicious meals that week). Then it was off to the beach for the team-building activity which attracted 4 teams of largely unqualified but very enthusiastic and competitive raft-builders who built craft of varying designs and seaworthiness before testing them out in the waters of the Atlantic. Despite some attempted underhanded activity from one team in the final sprint, all rafts made it back to shore safely and with the same number of crew, and we have to congratulate Team Nemo on their superior craft and emphatic win!

A quick wash and brush-up later and 100+ attendees from 21 countries gathered on the Lower Pool Deck for pina coladas and the Welcome Reception and Dinner where Rob Paterson, ICMA Chair, welcomed everyone to the conference.

Bright and early (well, 9am), the conference proper kicked off with a keynote presentation from Eric Stein, Director of Local Markets, Google. Eric had been asked to address some broad search-related themes and he tackled these via four rules – maximise your assets, get connected, think local and be “open”-minded. Eric was followed by Ciler Yildiz of Trader Media East who used her extensive experience in the world of FMCG to de-mystify some of the critical issues of change planning and implementation – thank you Felix and Ciler for the entertaining (and highly illustrative) dance!

After the coffee-break, we dived into local with two presentations from local search providers. Jim Clouse from ClikitySplit.com presented his unique map-based interface for local advertisers, and Ben Saren of CitySquares explored the different types of user search behaviours and demonstrated the value of context in a local search listing. Jim and Ben were followed by Greg Swanson of Itz Publishing who departed from his brief completely and treated us to a passionate and extremely relevant analysis of audience tracking (we have posted his original presentation on the database).

Then it was on to video with a panel chaired by Peter Zollman of Classified Intelligence and featuring two suppliers, Anupam Gupta of Mixpo and Frank Lucero of Adfare, and a video publisher, Alfredo Escolar of Evisos and Vaclip. Plenty of quality questions were fired at the panel, and much debate ensued.

The final session of Thursday was dedicated to “Sharing Best Practice” a closed session for publishers to compare and discuss critical metrics in their business. Once again, this proved to be one of the most valuable sessions in the entire conference programme, and we are planning to further improve it for a repeat run in Tallinn. The other attendees threw themselves into the Speed-dating exercise and the clear winners were Shuki Lehavi of Gumiyo and Suzanne Pepper of the Palm Beach Post, great to see two first-timers doing so well!

Thursday evening out was at a hip modern Cuban eatery, YUCA, just off Lincoln Road next to South Beach. Many mojitos later, Head Office shepherded everyone back onto the coaches for the trip back to Sunny Isles, and straight into the hotel bar…

Impressively, attendance for Sharon Knitter’s presentation on Cars.com’s mobile strategy first thing on Friday was surprisingly strong. But after all, most delegates have autos as one of their strongest categories, and consider mobile to be a great opportunity. Sharon took delegates through the process of enabling Cars.com’s successful mobile platform and the lessons they had learned along the way. Sharon was followed by Shuki Lehavi of Gumiyo who presented a series of short case studies on mobile illustrating how sites can leverage the channel and generate significant revenue from a relatively modest investment. The last presentation of the first morning session was from Suzanne Moquin of LesPAC.com of Quebec, Canada who demonstrated how a strong community focus can strengthen a local marketplace so that it can withstand the competition from new entrants such as Kijiji and Craigslist.

Pete Flint, founder of Trulia, the property vertical (and surprisingly English) spoke after the coffee-break and described how Trulia had developed interactive services and networking features within the real estate community that resulted in an average of just 20 minutes for an answer to be posted in response to a question on the forums. One delegate commented afterwards “they’re doing everything that we should be doing” (that’s the beauty of ICMA events for you!). Pete was followed by George Dratelis from Adicio, supplier of white-label platforms for vertical sites who listed 8 key best practices that Adicio clients were encouraged to adopt. And finally, it was the turn of Steve Yelvington from Morris Digital Works, to close off the Plenary sessions with some insightful and though-provoking observations on the market conditions and trends that we find ourselves facing in the areas of technology, society and the economy.

After yet another delicious lunch (the food never seemed to stop!), it was off into the Workshop sessions with a choice of two out of three: SEO and SEM with Maciej Galcki from Bluerank, Google Analytics with Morgan Jones from Ecomiq and Making Your Call-Centre A Profit-Centre with Beverly Crandon from Classified Intelligence. Delegates reported that they preferred the new 90 minute format and so we’ll be continuing this for future GM’s.

Friday night was left free for delegates to make their own arrangements, and a large contingent headed off to South Beach for the evening to enjoy all that Miami offers.

Saturday morning kicked off with a first for ICMA, Jeff Evans, a motivational speaker who had guided a blind man up Everest. Before he took us on this journey though, Margus Tomberg of Sanoma Baltics presented the next GM destination, Tallinn in Estonia where his company will be hosting the conference from 14-16 May 2009 – thank you Margus and we look forward to seeing you there!

Jeff spoke about the experience of preparing for and executing this incredible journey and illustrated his story with some amazing photography and some homespun wisdom on teamwork and leadership. He got rave reviews from all delegates and it’ll definitely be something that we will repeat at future meetings.

Then it was off to the Publishers’ Meeting and the Sales Managers’ Workshop until the afternoon coffee-break. Martha de la Torre of El Clasificado chaired an excellent Publishers’ Meeting (separate report to come shortly), setting the scene with a detailed presentation on the economic landscape in which our businesses will be operating for the foreseeable future, and moderating an active discussion where delegates were asked to respond to a series of questions about how their businesses should develop in the future. Thanks to everyone who contributed to this great session!

Next door, the sales managers were doing their thing with the irrepressible Peter Lamb, focusing on the key areas of sales, online, marketing, organization and technology. Thanks also to all the active participants in this meeting especially the first-timers…

The 2009 budget was approved unanimously at the Business Meeting (there will be no increase in the annual membership fees), and Lucie presented the projects that Head Office had been working on on your behalf over the past 6 months, and the plans for the future.

Freshly washed, brushed and glammed up, attendees assembled in the lobby to board the buses for the Gala Party. Despite a small shoe malfunction, and some dreadful traffic, we all finally arrived and boarded the Venetian Lady, a luxury Miami-Vice style motor yacht where we enjoyed cocktails on all three decks, a sumptuous dinner, and some great tunes on the dance floor as we cruised around Star Island and along the Miami waterfront, admiring the spectacular skyline. The coaches deposited (in one or two cases, literally), dedicated party-goers in South Beach, and the rest of us returned to the Trump, some heading straight for the hot-tub by the pool where the Poles were having quite a vodka party it seemed!

Florida was a magical destination to escape the start of the northern European winter and the formal sessions of the event delivered some excellent value to delegates and we’re sure that many of the ideas gleaned are being implemented already. Thank you to everyone who contributed, it is you who really make ICMA what it is, and we hope to see you all 14-16 May in Tallinn, Estonia for the “Shaping the Future of Classifieds” General Meeting, hosted by Sanoma Baltics.