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First-day impressions of CTIA show

 
 

First-day impressions of CTIA show

By Mickey Alam Khan

LAS VEGAS – The day before a major conference kicks off is like the waning hours of the event: ghostly and a pale shadow of what will be or what was. Thus was the environment yesterday at CTIA Wireless, the largest gathering of mobile industry executives nationwide.

Those who made it into the cavernous Las Vegas Convention Center had to be real diehards to sit through the mobile advertising and marketing and mobile entertainment mini-events yesterday. After all, they were giving up a day outside in glorious sunshine, blue skies and salubrious weather.

The joy of attending a major event such as CTIA is the number of appointments scheduled with acquaintances and work contacts. Another side benefit is the serendipity factor: you just don’t know who you will bump into.

And so, that’s how this writer saw and shook hands with MX Telecom U.S. CEO Alykhan Govani and his colleague James not once but twice as they crisscrossed the convention center’s North, South and Central Halls. Mr. Govani is joining the ranks of other SMS aggregators in taking a more active interest in evangelizing mobile marketing.

A few minutes later, who but Jeff Lee, president of Distributive Networks, walks up, says hello and joins the conversation. Mr. Lee’s company is among the vendors responsible for President Obama’s mobile marketing campaign during the elections.

Millennial Media's Mack McKelvey at the Central Bar in the hip Hard Rock Hotel
Mr. Lee’s company is an SMS aggregator.

A few yards up, who does this writer behold? One of the hardest-working mobile advertising executives whose name has graced almost every mobile conference handbook: Michael Bayle, senior director of global mobile monetization at Yahoo.

In his usual cheer, Mr. Bayle said he was next up on a panel, but had to collect his badge. The trek from one end of the convention center to the other is a trifle inconvenient. But hey, what’s a show without a gripe?

This writer then ducked into the Mobile Marketing and Advertising Pre-Conference event. A room of 200 was maybe full to 80 percent capacity – not a bad showing for the first day of CTIA Wireless, and especially given that this conference is more geared to the technology side of mobile.

The panel, on mobile advertising and metrics, had reps from AT&T and Verizon Wireless, as well as Amobee chief marketing officer Patrick Parodi, AdMob vice president of marketing Jason Spero and Mr. Bayle. Brian Gratch, president of Sixteen30, was moderator.

A discussion on metrics is rarely measured by its conclusions. And so it was with this session. Smart minds put heads together, but no resolution was reached on the right metrics for mobile advertising. But it was clear that the answer largely lay with the ones controlling the subscriber data – the wireless carriers.

Or did it? What if the traffic was not routed through carriers, but instead through WiFi, as is increasingly happening in certain cities? Where would that leave reliable metrics derived from location-based data that carriers hold?

“With WiFi, it is bye-bye for metrics?” Mr. Bayle wondered aloud.

The discussion turned, logically, to privacy. The executives from AT&T and Verizon Wireless stressed that the subscriber’s privacy was of paramount importance.

Amobee’s Mr. Parodi, though, had the right idea. His company preferred to use a word such as “relevancy” that would convey less fear of a targeted advertising effort that was permission-based.
“What Google taught us is that intention is more important than attention,” he said.

The panelists agreed that industry associations such as the Mobile Marketing Association, CTIA and the Interactive Advertising Bureau were right in collaborating to develop acceptable metrics for mobile measurement.

The Verizon Wireless rep pointed out that while watermarking of MMS images will gain traction in the next few years, allowing for measuring of messaging traffic’s effectiveness.

Of course, all lamented – as they always do – that mobile advertising was not yet a line item in most budgets. And if mobile advertising does get the dollars, the allocation is from digital budgets.

Mobile marketing, on the other hand, takes dollars from other marketing channels that it gives legs to, including television, retail, print, radio and outdoor.

The panelists also brought up the BRIC countries – Brazil, Russia, India and China. India, in fact, was pretty talked up. Amobee recently opened an office in the Indian financial capital of Mumbai.

“P&G mentioned their reach on mobile in India is larger than other media,” Amobee’s Mr. Parodi said.

The next panel on mobile content had an equally stellar cast. The Weather Channel’s Louis Gump made an excellent presentation on his company’s progress in mobile. More than 2 million consumers have downloaded the weather.com application.

In between sessions, this writer said hello to the event’s emcee, MMA president/CEO Mike Wehrs and Impact Mobile president/CEO Gary Schwartz.

Then it was off to “The Hotel,” adjacent to the Mandalay Bay. The idea was to say hello to Bill Stone, president of Qualcomm’s Flo TV mobile television network.

Mr. Stone obviously knows his stuff, outlining the issues mobile TV faced. Scale was a major concern for most advertisers looking to extend media buys to mobile TV. CPM was a hurdle for carriers.

The answer, Mr. Stone said, lay with carriers and improved backend infrastructure that would enable scale and targeting.

In the suite with him were Flo TV director of public relations Julie Quattro and Illume Public Relations partner Aurli Bokovza.

Flo TV has announced a new initiative today, too.

From there, it was off to the Hard Rock Hotel, haunt of the young, hip and Hollywood. True to form, the ambience in the Central Bar in the center of the casino channeled more W hotel vibes than one-armed bandit paradise.

Mack McKelvey, soon to be married, was sitting at the bar with her colleague Chris Brandenburg, executive vice president and chief technology officer of mobile ad network Millennial Media. Ms. McKelvey is the new vice president of marketing at the company.

One of Ms. McKelvey’s mandates is to raise the profile of Millennial Media. Expect more firepower from that corner.

In news announced today, Millennial Media has signed a deal to collaborate with WaveMarket to deliver scalable location-based services to advertisers.

The location-aware advertising offering will require explicit end-user opt-in before Millennial Media can access the end-user’s location. The end-user can revoke permission at any time, per Millennial Media.

Now what’s a day at a conference without a mess-up in the schedule? So how did yours truly forget the 4 p.m. meeting with Quattro Wireless?

A call from Valerie Christopherson, managing director of Global Results Communications and perhaps the most understanding mobile PR executive, saved the day.

It was a shame to leave Ms. McKelvey sitting by herself at the very hip bar at the Hard Rock Hotel – a gaming screen for each stool, please – but duty beckoned. So it was yet another expensive cab ride back to the Las Vegas Convention Center.

Lars Albright of Quattro was kind enough to overlook the delay, as was Ms. Christopherson’s colleague, Daniel Rhodes, vice president of public relations at Global Results Communications. Quattro is the PR firm’s client.

The 15-minute meeting was intense. Talk centered round Quattro’s plans to raise its market profile and also its new funding and a new hire that will soon be announced.

It was time then to return to the respective stations – Mr. Albright to another meeting and this writer to a spectacular view of Las Vegas and the mountains ringing the city. The Las Vegas Hilton surely has the best views in the city.

Meanwhile, it was sad to hear that Mark Desautels, CTIA vice president of wireless Internet development, passed away Monday, March 30. The 56-year-old executive was playing golf when he suffered an apparent heart attack.

The father of three daughters, Mr. Desautels was much admired for his work on the Wireless Internet Caucus. He was scheduled to speak on panels at this show. May he rest in peace.

Dust to dust, as they say ...

A couple of hours at the computer working on this article and it was off to cocktails, dinner and pressing the flesh. Jetlag and charm don’t make natural companions, but there was no option: this flag has to be saluted.

And so on to the Renaisance Hotel to say hello to Kirsten Woodard of Global Results Communications and her client, Telcordia.

But before that, it made sense to stop at the ShowStoppers event - a showcase of mobile companies for press. Sarah Miller and her colleague Ava, both of Axis Marketing & PR, were the warmest people in the room. They introduced me to Tom Ellsworth, boss of GoTV.

A quick round of the room as it was wrapping up and a goodbye to ShowStoppers' James Donovan and it was onto to the Envy restaurant. They were about to sit down for dinner. Ms. Woodard quickly made introductions to Telcordia's Sharon.

The final stop of the day was the Verizon Wireless party at the Opium room behind the Tao restaurant in the over-the-top Venetian hotel. Even the cabbies had not heard of Opium. So it must be pretty exclusive. A stamp on my wrist proves it.

Millennial Media's Ms. McKelvey and her CEO, Paul Palmieri, were wonderful hosts. The restaurant was full of smart, trendy, with-it people. Ms. McKelvey and Mr. Palmieri discussed mobile marketing issues of the day.

No time or inclination to pull the one-arm bandit or turn a quarter into a mllion dollars. But it was a day to fit the theme of this year's CTIA Wireless show: Mobile Life.