GM New Delhi 2005

Arriving slightly bleary-eyed in the small hours (when all the European flights seemed to land), ICMA delegates made their way to the Hyatt Regency, our base for the next few days. Everyone agreed that the hotel was one of the most comfortable we’ve ever stayed in, the Club Olympus scored particularly highly on the massages, beauty treatments and the fitness centre, and the food was delicious and varied.

After settling into our rooms, the Committee met for their regular pre-GM meeting, along with more than one mosquito! Then it was out for the Meet-and-Greet Lunch, where delegates registered for the conference, mingled in the ICMA Member Lounge, and (for some) tasted their first real Indian cuisine.

A quick wash-and-brush-up later we assembled in the foyer to board the typically Indian buses for the tour of Delhi. Split into two groups, the buses visited the Parliament Building, India Gate (the New Delhi Arc de Triomphe), the Red Fort, Jamma Masjid, meeting a bicycle-riding baboon and separating Igor from a cobra en route, and finally deposited everyone at Cottage Industries where delegates browsed the stalls, drank Indian tea and negotiated like professionals. Some people chose to make their own way back to the hotel, by taxi or in Jill and Peter’s case, a tuk-tuk!

The Welcome Reception and Dinner took place in the Water Court at the Hyatt Regency, an open-air walled garden festooned with lights, and with at least one waiter per guest(!). Jill Armer, ICMA Chairperson, opened the proceedings with a short speech welcoming everyone, thanking our hosts Free-Ads India, our speakers and sponsors (Joshua Advanced Media Services, Calligramme and ISV), and holding a short silence to remember the victims of the October 29 bombings. Everyone tucked into the delicious Indian food, caught up with old friends, met new people, and compared experiences so far.

Friday opened to a new format, the Keynote Address followed by the Publishers’ Meeting and the Online Revenue Generation Forum. We were delighted to welcome Rajagopalan Sundar, Director Corporate of the Times of India Group, as the Keynote Speaker, especially when he was rather unwell at the time. Nevertheless, he did a great job of presenting the media business in India and analyzing the role of classifieds therein. His presentation is an extremely large file and so if any delegates would like to have a copy, please let us know and we will mail you a CD).

Following the coffee-break, a small and select group of publishers retired with Rob Paterson for the Publishers’ Meeting, where the first session addressed our response to the “Free-Free” threat that was discussed in Barcelona. This developed into an active debate on whether classified publishers could expect to compete against Google’s move into classifieds. Who can ever forget Gerald’s elephant analogy?! Cut all too short the publishers broke for lunch and then split into twin-tracks – a group facilitated by Sergey Kochurin discussed cost-saving ideas and approaches (a full report of all the ideas will be posted on the downloads database shortly), while the remaining publishers heard from Corporate Catalyst on the best way to approach the opportunities of outsourcing, followed by two case-studies from Buy & Sell and Friday-Ad who had conducted two very successful pilot tests with Free-Ads. A short coffee-break later, and it was back into workgroups to tackle “Getting the most out of your resources”, the key to working smarter, not harder. As usual, there was simply not enough time to discuss all of the possible topics. Winding up at 5.20, Rob thanked the delegates and proposed that Josef Kogler of VMH Quoka should chair the next Publishers’ Meeting in Toronto. Seconded by John Whelan, Josef was duly elected to this position, and we expect great things from him!

In the next room, Jill Armer and Peter Zollman were leading the Online Revenue Generation Forum – a new meeting designed to meet the needs of sales managers and new media people. The initial session concentrated on sales with Jill tackling many of the issues that confronted today’s sales managers. Peter then analysed some of the delegates’ self-service pages, and made suggestions for improvements. Following the coffee-break, delegates broke into workgroups to address specific problems, reporting back to the group at the close. Running to two long sessions, the group went for a late lunch and then hit the pool early!

Gathering in the foyer that evening, delegates began boarding the coaches for the evening at Sidharth’s family’s farmhouse just outside Delhi. After a short journey, we arrived and were welcomed by the Gupta family with champagne and flowers into a beautifully decorated garden, filled with red and gold tables, surrounded with stations serving food from all of India’s regions, a numerologist, a palm-reader, a tarot-card reader, a face-reader, people giving out bangles and several henna artists, all around a stage with live Rajasthani music and dancing. You’ll just have to check out the photos to see what a spectacular evening it was!

On Saturday, there was a standing ovation for Sidharth’s hospitality of the previous night, and an announcement of an innovation from ICMA, the first Sales Lab (to be held in Amsterdam on 9-10 March 2006 – space is limited and registration starts on 1 December!) before plunging into the sessions of the Plenary Day. One of ICMA’s regular speakers – Peter Rees of Trader Classified Media – spoke on “Maximising Revenues in a Multi-Channel Business” before sharing some of his thoughts on what the future might hold, especially with regards to Google. Peter was followed by Peter Zollman of Classified Intelligence who reviewed classified business models (successful and unsuccessful) before also addressing the Google issue. The final session before the coffee-break saw a new format, a Q&A session on “3 continents, 3 realities”, led by Lucie Hime of ICMA, ably supported by Bobby Ralston of Target Media Partners, Sergio Melaragno of Primeiramao and Michiel van der Meer of Our thanks again go to Bobby, Sergio and Michiel for stepping into the breach at such short notice when our planned speaker – Orange – cancelled unexpectedly.

A quick break for coffee, and then straight back into a series of presentations focusing on upselling, led by David Waghorne of Northcliffe Newpapers Group. Three first-time speakers featured in this session, Beverly Crandon of Trader Media Corporation of Canada (and yes, we’ll all coming to your apartment for the Friday night party in Toronto!), Lazslo Gyenge of VMH Quoka, and Svetlana Zavodchikova of Pronto-Moscow who deserves special mention for stepping into the shoes of Vladimir Makaron who was unable to make it.

Lunch was a Canadian affair, with maple-leaf pins and flags and a beautiful video showing you just what’s in store for you all next May. Beverly made a short speech extolling the virtues of her home city, and we certainly hope that you will be able to join us on 11-13 May 2006 – put it in your diary now!

Three well-attended workgroups, led by Sally Winfield of Loot, Kaisa Ala-Laurila of Ilta-Sanomat and Bernie Neubauer of ISV, ran for 45 minutes each, interrupted by Lucie’s new and improved “bell”. “Adding value online”, “The journey from paid to free” and “Keeping it local” were the topics and they all proved equally popular – thanks to all our facilitators, and participants for making it such a lively session.

Jill wrapped up the formal proceedings with a re-cap of what we had learned and thanked Head Office and our hosts Free-Ads. The final session was the ICMA Business Meeting where Lucie presented ICMA Projects, an update on PHOENIX and the proposed 2006 budget. The proposed budget was duly voted on and was unanimously approved by delegates.

People hit the gym and the pool or just relaxed in the bar before gathering in the lobby to catch the coaches to the Gala Party at the Imperial Hotel, one of the world’s best hotels. Delegates congregated on the terrace above the bar overlooking the gardens for cocktails and canapés before being served a delicious Indian meal, and listening to India classical music in the Royal Ballroom.

Then, whisked from Raj-like splendour to the equally impressive Bollywood-themed Meridien nightclub where we watched a team of Bollywood dancers strut and wiggle their stuff before our Russian delegates led the dancing, and soon the dancefloor was heaving. Special mentions have to be made of Kaisa Ala-Laurila who turned out to be the queen of formation dancing, Matthieu Laverne of Calligramme who flung unsuspecting women around in the French jive, and Igor and Sergey Kochurin who practically lived on the dancefloor all night. A hard core of delegates stayed until the last bus and had to be torn from the bar (by the way, if anyone is missing a dark-blue sweater of the JAG brand, please mail Lucie as she picked it up and she’ll be happy to send it to you as it doesn’t fit her). John Whelan led the singing home on the last coach and everyone staggered home at about 2am.

Bright and early (my alarm went off at 6.15), and with a lot of people wearing sunglasses, we boarded the buses for the four (4) hour trip to the Taj Mahal. Sitting at the front (to avoid travel sickness), I had a birds-eye view of many types of traffic that were sharing the road with us – ranging from the standard cars, buses, scooters and motorcycles to the auto-rickshaws, rickshaws and push-bikes, to pedestrians, donkeys, ponies and carts, a man riding a horse, several trains of camels and at least one elephant. We had an all-too-brief visit to the Taj Mahal, but we have a great group photo of us all (this will be available to download from Lucie’s iDisk very shortly). I can’t remember very much about the trip back except I was very glad to see the hotel again!

What an amazing General Meeting – thanks to all the delegates, speakers, sponsors and guests, but most of all to our fantastic hosts, the Guptas of Free-Ads India, who have really set new standards in hospitality, and gave us all an experience that we will treasure for years to come. We’ll be back!