Toronto GM REPORT
The sun shone and the breeze blew as Lucie, Karina and Craig arrived in Toronto on the Monday and settled into the lovely Le Royal Meridien King Edward in the heart of downtown Toronto. The sun continued to shine as we reconnoitred the Distillery District, set up the office and sampled the local shopping facilities (all in the name of research of course). Come Thursday morning though, the heavens opened and the rain came pouring down almost all day. But ICMA delegates are a tough bunch and after a delicious Meet-and-Greet lunch in the beautiful Palm Court/Pall Mall rooms, we all boarded the bus to the nearby Distillery District where groups took the walking tour and learned to ride a Segway, most for the first time! Apart from one slight mishap, everyone took to it very well and, wrapped in plastic raincoats, trundled happily around the collection of old buildings in the downpour. After prising everyone out of the bar (and chocolate, ice-cream and jewellery shops…), we returned to the hotel to dry off before attending the Welcome Reception and Dinner.
Jill Armer, Director of Operations of Buy Sell Ireland and Chair of ICMA, welcomed delegates to one of the largest GM’s outside of Europe, 110 delegates in total from 20 countries, and thanked our host for their hospitality, and the exhibitors and sponsors for their support. Unfortunately, John Francis of Trader Media Corporation had been unexpectedly called away, but Cal Bosveld, Group Publisher, Automotive Generalist Publications, filled in admirably, and extended a warm Canadian welcome to all visitors. Speeches over, everyone filled their glasses and their plates, and ate, drank and talked long into the evening.
Bright and early the next morning (largely because the jet-lag for the Europeans made sure that we were all awake by 5am), Jill formally opened the conference sessions with some thoughts on the conference theme of “The Next Generation: Product Innovation”. We were delighted to welcome as our Keynote speaker, Garry Wiseman, Product Unit Manager of MSN Live Expo, Microsoft’s foray into the world of classified media. Garry explained the project background, objectives, rationale for Microsoft to enter this space, the focus on community interaction, the challenges that they’re facing and some thoughts for the future. Whilst he dodged a question on the numbers, he was remarkably open about Microsoft’s activities, which was appreciated by delegates. However, the fact that only 8 people work on this product underlined the sheer efficiency with which the online players can start to compete in our markets. Garry was followed by George Brooks, President of Trader Publishing Company, soon to be split into Landmark’s Dominion Enterprises and Cox Autotrader, was on next with a look at how Trader had exploited the online channel from a largely print base. An entertaining dialogue resulted on the exact audiences and overlap between Autotrader, Auto Extra and Auto Mart, with George finally admitting that the success of these operating in a single portfolio was largely happy chance.
After the coffee-break, it was one of ICMA’s most regular and prolific speakers, Peter Rees of Trader Classified Media who took to the podium. Despite having been given a brief by Head Office to talk about Trader’s top innovations, he had decided to talk about making money – a subject very close to all delegates’ hearts. He focused on five key strategies – bundling, verticalisation, regionalization, free circulation and merchandising – and gave examples of how TCM had deployed these in various markets. And if anyone missed it, Peter’s email address after 30 June when he leaves TCM will be firstname.lastname@example.org (but we may see him again in Munich…) A completely different tack next, when Suzanne Raitt, VP Marketing for the Canadian Newspaper Association presented some research on successful creative approaches for classified ads. The ladies in the audience particularly liked the ad for divorce lawyers of the Porsche Boxter with the numberplate Was-His… Running a little close to lunchtime, Rajesh Navar, CEO and Founder of LiveDeal stepped up to engage us in “Conversation 2010” about the future of classifieds. His argument – that classifieds could no longer be assumed to be a direct source of revenue, but instead should be thought of as content around which to package advertising – means that we need to build best-of-breed solutions and create new revenue streams in order to create a marketplace that will succeed.
Kicking off the afternoon, we welcomed a late stand-in, Mark Gideon of Scarborough Lexus, a real live customer from a major car dealer in Toronto, to talk about how he made his advertising decisions and why they had changed over recent years. The audience seemed slightly stunned at the prospect of questioning a customer about how he viewed their products… And then it was over to Craig Donato, the CEO and Founder of Oodle.com, to explain the concept of aggregating and to answer the age-old question of ‘so how do you make money from this?’. The answer seemed to be selling enhanced listings to the publishers who had agreed to feed ads into Oodle.com so that their listings were displayed with more detail, thus delivering more value to their advertisers. Craig denied that he would ever sell ads into the environment that Oodle.com had created through ‘scraping’ but afterwards, the consensus amongst many publishers was that he would find that option hard to resist in the end. However, Dan Rindos of Bargain News endorsed the Oodle.com model, saying that it was delivering 4000-5000 extra visitors to the Bargain News site since he started the regular upload.
Sadly, Naval Ravikant of Vast.com experienced some travel hiccups and wasn’t able to join us in Toronto, but we hope he’ll be able to make it to Munich.
After putting Melanie’s group in another room (for noise reasons!), the three workshops kicked off on time. It was the first time we had done the Website Show-and-Tell, and delegates really seemed to get into ‘showing you mine, if you’ll show me yours’. We’ll make a few changes next time, and ask delegates to focus on a specific feature of their services rather than absolutely everything, but thanks to all volunteers (and I was particularly impressed with the Autotrader.ca multiple image manipulation technology as well as Friday-Ad’s specialist website, aviationjobsearch.com). By all reports, the Search Engine Optimisation Print Sales Initiatives workshop, led by Colin Smillie, was excellent and gave delegates many concrete ideas and techniques to take home and try out. Melanie’s workshop was also very well attended, and Melanie generously shared many of Loot’s most successful print initiatives with all attendees.
A quick wash-and-brush-up later, and it was off to the CN Tower, the world’s tallest building, to eat dinner in the 360 revolving restaurant and play on the glass floor. The food was delicious, the view spectacular (even more so from the top viewing deck). Interestingly, the group divided into the imaginative ones who had a healthy respect for heights and then those who coldly rationalized that they were not going to fall. That makes Saija Katajamaki the most imaginative, and Lucie the least!
Nursing a few sore heads the next day (and there was more than one delegate who simply never reappeared), we reconvened for the Publishers’ Meeting, chaired by Josef Kogler, and the Sales Managers’ Workshop, chaired by Beverly Crandon. There will be separate minutes written up for the Publishers’ Meeting, available from the presentations database shortly.
Finally, interested members met together for the Business Meeting to discuss the internal business of the Association, approve the 2005 audit, appoint a new auditor and elect some new Committee members to serve on the Committee until May 2007 – full minutes will also be made available in the presentations database and also in the Library.
The formal part of the conference over, Head Office (okay, mainly Karina) quickly packed up the ICMA office, and everyone rushed to get changed for the Gala Party. We arrived at the Liberty Grand Renaissance Room where we were greeted by two beautifully turned out Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers and had the opportunity to have our photos taken with them. After more than a few drinks, Cal once again welcomed us all and Karina presented bouquets of flowers to Jennifer and Roseanne to thank them for all their help in making the conference happen. After a delicious meal, and way too much to drink, the dancing started and we all trickled back to the hotel bar around midnight.
Thankfully considerably later than in India, the tourists amongst us struggled out of bed to catch the coach for the day-trip to Niagara Falls (we were slightly disappointed not to see any elephants at all on the way!). A great day was had by all with a boat trip to the foot of the Canadian Horseshoe Falls, lunch overlooking the Falls (and a sneaky stop at Starbucks en route), a view from Table Rock at the rapids at the top of the Falls, a stop at the Whirlpool where the water actually loops under itself, and an all too brief shopping visit to Niagara-on-the-Lake. After dropping Felix, Inge and Brent off at the airport, we were very glad to see our hotel again.
Thanks again to Trader Media Corporation for being such great hosts (I always think a host can’t possibly match the previous one but I’m always proved wrong), the Committee for all their input and ideas, the many speakers and members who gave their time to help, Karina and Craig for all their hard work up to, during and after the event, the exhibitors and sponsors for their support, but most importantly to you, the delegates, who at the end of it all, really make the event what it is.