Cellcom Media Conference: all that talk about social media didn’t really help

cellcom-media-conference-2010

Yesterday I attended the Cellcom Media Conference at Tel Aviv University. I’m assuming that Cellcom produces this mega event every year in order to strengthen its brand perception in the market. They almost managed to do that at yesterday’s event – if only they hadn’t ended up acting so cellphone-company-ish at the end.

Free lunch, great speakers: so far so good

Cellcom, one of Israel’s big-three cellphone companies, holds this conference every year, and this was the third one. It’s the first time I was invited to attend this free event and when I saw that Dennis Crowley from Foursquare was speaking, I jumped on the opportunity to hear him in person.

I got there for lunch (after getting lost – WITH my GPS), and was completely overwhelmed. The lobby was full of people swarming around (the Foursquare Swarm badge awarded to conference attendees was fitting) and lining up to get lunch. I could barely find a place to just stand and have a phone call without getting bumped. Cellcom had obviously gone all out, with one of the nicest venues I’ve seen for a conference, an amazing lunch, about 1000 participants, and top-level speakers they flew in from overseas.

Despite the crowd I did manage to run into a few people I knew, who told me that the morning sessions were mostly good. These sessions included Jeremy Gutsche, founder of TrendHunter.com; Phil McKinney, CTO for HP’s Personal Systems Group; Kahina van Dyke, EVP and General Manager at MasterCard (at least they had one woman speaker); and Anthony E. Zuiker the creator and producer of the television series CSI.

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Chad Stoller speaking at Cellcom Media Conference

After lunch we all filed in to the hall for the next lectures. The first speaker, Chad Stoller from BBDO, was really good and managed to keep his cool and sense of humor despite major technical issues with the projector. He spoke about how social media is changing the world of advertising, and showed the example of how BBDO implemented a facebook connection on BlueRay disks for the popular TV series Trueblood that allowed users to interact with the show and share scenes with friends on facebook. I particularly liked this idea of his: We used to gather then share – i.e. invite everyone over to see our photos. Now we share then gather – i.e. we post stuff online, and people gather around it.

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Piers Fawkes speaking at Cellcom Media Conference

Next we had Piers Fawkes from PSFK, a highly influential guy from a highly influential trends and research group. He spoke to us (in a lovely British accent) about ways that retailers are integrating social media in their marketing activities. He brought some interesting examples, but overall I was generally too busy being appalled by the obsessive shopping culture in the US, where young girls’ main weekend activities are shopping and then showing people their plunder on YouTube. And we wonder why there aren’t more women in upper management, or why the US hasn’t had a female president. Yuck.

Cellcom needs to learn some social media lessons

During Piers’ talk I checked twitter to see what people were saying about the conference, and saw the following from Dvir Reznik:

http://twitter.com/#!/dvirreznik/status/4496142742061056

Apparently, Dennis Crowley wasn’t actually showing up at the conference – he was to speak via video conference.

Here’s what Crowley had to say about this:

http://twitter.com/#!/dens/status/4511795494522880

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Foursquare's Dennis Crowley on video at Cellcom Conference

Having a speaker via videoconference is totally legitimate. But at least let people know – I mean, we’re all going to realize what’s really happening at some point. Cellcom listed Crowley with the rest of their speakers, so we all assumed that he’d be speaking in person too. This type of behavior on the side of Cellcom was inconsiderate and not-quite-honest. This type of not-quite-honestness reminded me, and others, of the many encounters we’ve had with Israel’s not-quite-honest cellphone companies:

http://twitter.com/#!/itamarw/status/4513870500597760

An overriding theme of the conference was social media. And overall, the conference was pretty good on that level: they invited “influencers” (there were many impressive people there) to a free conference, treated us all really well and gave us great content. But not being up front about Crowley was a fashla. Why not just tell it like it is? In the end, we felt like we’d been had.

Yaron Orenstein summed it up well on facebook (my translation from Hebrew):

Cellcom, who knew that Crowley would draw a lot of interest, put his talk at the end of the day in order to “secure” a captive audience. This is without doubt demeaning and exploitative behavior on the side of Cellcom.

I still appreciated the conference, so thank you Cellcom. I really enjoyed it. But maybe in the future, try to adopt the transparent style of social media that was so expounded upon all day, and don’t try to hide things, k?

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