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Online Publishers Association Global Forum – London 2007

March 10, 2007

Last week, 7th-9th March 2007, the Online Publishers Association held their annual Global Forum at the Landmark Hotel in London. Overall it was a mixed bag but there were a couple of real gems and I took away some fantastic nuggets, tips and quotes, which I have written up here for your viewing pleasure.

The conference, and the OPA, is mostly aimed at traditional media companies who are already embracing online and who want to find out what’s working for other people and also do a bit of networking – so it was right up my alley. It’s a nice change from most events about online for print publishers, which seem to be pitched at those who are struggling to ‘get it’.

Day One:

Staying Competitive in the Digital Era

Jeffrey Rayport of Marketspace kicked the conference off with a presentation verging on an attempt at stand-up comedy, entitled Staying Competitive in the Digital EraDespite the comedy, he made some fantastic points about how traditional media companies need to change their thinking– community is the new content creation engine, social networks the new distribution channels, social intelligence the new editorial filter, tools and appliances the new editorial bundles, and multi-platform development is the new publishing.

Rayport also suggested five strategies for success: own the audience, claim the community, work the web, design for the occasion, and integrate the experience. I particularly liked his explanation of working the web – letting the inside out, and the outside in. He finished with a hypothesis about content creation – that there are either amateurs or professionals who are either acting like amateurs or acting like professionals – from Numa Numa to Lonelygirl15. For more on all this, see the full notes.

Web Video Panel

Next came a panel discussion on the subject of web video. I didn’t really take much away from this and I found most of the panel sessions a bit disappointing.

SkyBlog / SkyRock – The French mySpace

After a networking coffee break, Pierre Bellanger from French pirate radio station turned website SkyBlog (the French myspace), talked about what Web 2.0 meant for them. Most of the talk was a little hard to understand with the thick accent, and what I did hear I felt was mostly irrelevant to the audience. However Bellanger made a couple of points well worth quoting:

Andy Warhol said everybody would have 15 minutes of fame. But on a social network, everybody is famous for 15 people.

On why moderation is necessary, and who boundaries actually help a community to thrive:

Cars go faster because they have brakes.

Starbucks’ Marketing Innovations

Next up was Anne Saunders, Senior Vice President of Global Brand Strategy at Starbucks with a slick presentation about how Starbucks never spend money on TV advertising, that it’s all about the brand and the service, and how everybody loves them. When she asked if anybody had any questions, I almost said “so where does the web come into this?” but refrained… The only remotely web orientated bit was when she had a slide about their store finderon their website. Hmm, innovative stuff.

The Yahoo Roasting

During lunch, Dominique Vidal,  Regional VP at Yahoo Europe, was pretty much roasted by Larry Kramer of CBS with a bit of help from the audience. Vidal was forced to admit that Yahoo does compete with traditional publishers – which made the usual spiel about how publishers should partner with Yahoo sound a bit odd. But that’s the ‘net for you – everybody is a partner and a competitor at the same time. He was seriously thrown to the lions. Perhaps he should have asked Anne from Starbucks for some roasting tips…

Web 2.0 and The Guardian

After lunch Carolyn McCall, CEO of the Guardian Media Group was joined by her editor of The Guardian newspaper, Alan Rusbridger, to talk about their experiences of taking a traditional media company through the digital transition. They thought their switch to Berliner format was the “hardest thing they’d ever done”, until they tried to go from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0. Being a trust, they’ve got some serious money to spend and are currently investing £15m in a redesign of Guardian Unlimited

International Mobile Study

Next came the results of an OPA commissioned survey conducted by TNS on the subject of mobile web usage called Going Mobile: An International Study of Content Use and Advertising on the Mobile Web. The presentation was quite graph and stats heavy as you might expect. I have a full write-up on the results here, and there has also been some press coverage which were slightly more upbeat than I thought TNS had conveyed. The bottom line was that there is a long way to go before Mobile Internet goes mainstream.

The Mobile Platform Panel

Following a second networking coffee break came another disappointing panel discussion about the Mobile Platform. I was impressed with Simon Thompson, European marketing director at Motorola, but it was otherwise a pretty dry affair. Thompson constantly corrected anybody who said ‘mobile device’, explaining that they are ‘mobile PHONES’. Despite all the bells and whistles, the function driving the usage is the phone.

The only useful snippet of info I took from the session was Graeme Oxby, marketing director at mobile operator Three commenting that 50% of video clips downloaded on their network were viewed at home, and that the concept that people will watch clips at the bus stop is a total fallacy. Thompson quipped that in the UK they’d probably get mugged for starters! Oxby himself said he tended to watch the ITV news on his phone in the kitchen rather than try and get his kids to change the TV channel…

Staying Relevant – the Business of Advertising

Bob Greenberg, CEO of ad agency R/GA finished the day with a presentation about how advertising has changed as technology has improved. Having started out in film production, Greenberg postulated that he’s had to reinvent his company every 7 years. It was a fairly interesting talk, including a funny video clip of his 89 year old Mom saying she didn’t have a clue what he did for a living, “Something on the Internet?”.

He showcased some interesting things they’d been doing with Nike and Apple, called Nike+, and that they’ve just launched a ‘new breed’ of e-commerce store for Nike, which is a full Flash experience. He claims that despite the flash it is accessible, usable, and even has SEO – I’ll believe that when I see it, and it feels a bit sluggish to me. One memorable quote from the session was:

It’s not just about getting consumers’ attention – it’s about giving them some attention as well.

Day Two

Discussion: Staying Competitive

Jeffrey Rayport of Marketspace was back again to start the half-day, starting a ‘lively discussion’ about competitive strategy. Unfortunately it just turned into an argument between Jeff Jarvis of Buzz Machine and Michael Zimbalist of The New York Times basically about user generated content and blogs. Zimbalist felt that such content did not have a place within their quality media environment, and Jarvis being a blogger obviously took the other stance. It wasn’t a particularly great debate.

Intent Driven (aka Agile) Media

Luckily the next session on Intent Driven Media from Peter Horan, CEO of IAC (aka was a real gem with lots to take away, so was deserving of a full write-up.  Horan talked about the impact of search on media, explained how the first five seconds of a user’s visit are crucial, suggested five corner-stones of successful content and finished on some great tips on monitisation. Well worth a read. It was also interesting to hear about IAC’s experiences with some of their fantastic daughter companies such as TripAdvisor and

A Walk on the Leading Edge

Another mediocre panel session, this time supposedly talking about emerging technologies and new companies, but to be honest it was totally forgettable.

The Age of Entwined Media

After a short break, James Spanfeller, president and CEO of, took to the stage with a presentation entitled “think big” – but he didn’t really demonstrate any big thinking. Their best innovation to date was doing blogs and podcasts.

But to be fair, they did have some good points about leveraging the power of your brand – they are launching sister sites including Forbes Traveller, Forbes Autos and also local language sites such as Despite a mostly dull talk, there were a couple of nuggets that caused the ears to prick up:

  • add 3,000(!) stories per day to their site(s).
  • They had 10m unique users in 2005, which grew to 16m in 2006.
  • They sell ads on “targeted reach, mass targetability” – ie no waste.
  • They guarantee their advertising. If you spend over $150k over 60 days on, they will measure brand awareness before and after using an independent company and if it hasn’t increased they will refund your money. This has apparently been very successful, even when clients have had awful creative.

The Media Investment Landscape

The penultimate slot was a dreaded panel session, but this one wasn’t too bad. No real surprises – just a bunch of venture capitalists talking about how they wished the IPO market would come back, as getting flipped by a big media company is just too rare an event…

One of the panelists was Tony Askew, MD of Reed Elsevier Investments, which is a cunning way for Reed to do relatively risky ventures that the parent company wouldn’t normally get into, such as web start-ups.  They spend 40% of their fund on digital projects.

One decent quote, basically about network effects and traffic acquisition costs was

The trick is to get users to do your marketing for you. It’s very difficult to make a profit if you have to pay to acquire users.

(sorry, I didn’t note who to attribute them to)

Lessons from the Future

They definitely left the best for last with this presentation from Wolfgang Grulke– futurist, author and adviser to the world’s top firms through his firm FutureWorld International. Again, this session entitled Lessons from the Future – 20/20 vision, 20/20 hindsight, was well worthy of a full write-up.

Grulke basically uses shock and awe tactics on companies who have failed to grasp the concept that their product has reached the end of its life-cycle. His predictions on how the world will change between now and the year 2020 takes its base from history and the changes occurring between 1970 and the present day. It’s not just about technological change, but changing consumer behaviour.

Your product may be popular with its current purchasers, but will the next generation feel the same? Scary but thought provoking stuff, which really hits home on the importance of keeping your company on its toes.

  1. Superleeroy permalink
    September 4, 2008 4:50 pm


    My name is Lee and ive just registered on this forum so i thought id say hi !




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