GroupM’s Inaugural What’s Next Conference Kicks Off

The first full day of GroupM’s inaugural What’s Next conference kicked off under grey skies but to plenty of friendly faces. Welcoming the mix of GroupM agency pros and big brand clients was the brainy and quick-witted Chris Copeland, CEO of GroupM Search. Chris and his St. Louis-based team behind the event appeared to have split the distance between their home state of Missouri and New York by hosting the event at Center 548 on the far west side of the city. The trendy location included high ceilings, concrete floors and one of the largest freight—now people—elevators in New York.

The rest of the day was a mix of keynotes and panels, many of them quite interesting. Highlights included:

Charlene Li, founder of Altimeter Group, gave a compelling view into what’s next for digital media, including one slide that detailed the five ways that companies are organizing around social media. Most organizations (41%) are utilizing a hub and spoke model where a single, cross functional social media team sits at the center and helps various business units.

Marc D’Arcy, Director of Global Creative Solutions for Facebook, reintroduced the Facebook Timeline product as well as showing a number of smaller scale case studies from brands like Nike. The former copywriter noted that the fictional Mad Men character Don Draper was a genius not because he could come up with great campaigns but because he could divine powerful insights about people. Marc noted that, in its own way, the Facebook platform could also provide such insights for brands.

On a morning panel Yahoo’s Patrick Albano uttered the quote of the conference when he said that a Facebook Like had become the social media equivalent of the Click Through Rate.

Following lunch, Steven Levy, Senior Writer for Wired and author of the book In The Plex, gave a fascinating inside look at how Google operates. Embedded within the company while he composed his tome, Levy noted that Google management initially hated advertising. It wasn’t until the engineers learned, through quantitative research, that people slightly preferred search results that included paid listings compared to ones that didn’t that Google truly embraced advertising. With this empirical evidence in hand the engineers set to work on creating the cash cow that Google Adwords has become.

Levy mentioned that Google initially chose not to divert engineering resources away from search and other initiatives to focus on social media, putting itself in the position it is now to play catch up with Facebook. He described the company’s failed efforts to replicate its success in paid search in both radio and TV, including a $900 million investment dMarc Broadcasting that turned out to be a complete bust.

Levy also shared that when Google co-founder Sergey Brin read the biography of Nikola Tesla, the famous inventor who died penniless because he shared all of his ideas, Brin broke down in tears. According to Levy this was a transformative moment for Brin that would make him highly protective of his own ideas.

With Steve Jobs’ recent passing still on most people’s minds, Levy concluded by cannoning the Apple founder and CEO. Jobs’ secret, he said, was simplifying things that had become complicated.

The panels that followed were moderated by the lovely Steve Hall, Jeff Semones and more lovely Kristine Segrist. All three moderators are long time GroupM employees who have helped infuse their organization with critical search and social media expertise over the past decade. Segrist, who has graced The Makegood since its inception thanks to posting the site’s first comment, noted that while the hockey stick growth that search marketing experienced in the last decade had ended, the discipline is as crucial to marketers today as ever.

Wrapping up the day’s program was the rambunctious team from Vice, the youth media and marketing company that attempted to shake things up a bit. Interspersed between the flashy videos and profiles on their countless media properties was the unorthodox business advice that we should all focus on having fun and getting laid, especially the getting laid part. Did I mention that they were trying to shake things up?

GroupM’s What’s Next conference is off to a promising start. Congratulations to everyone who put this valuable event together.