Redefining Dmexco 2023: A closer look at ad tech’s most ambitious networking event

The Dmexco ad tech conference, which starts today, is such a colossal event that taking measure of its ups and downs is notoriously difficult. It’s a showcase of the world’s best ad tech. It’s a networking bonanza. It’s a hive of dealmaking. 

And yet since the pandemic, the festival has arguably been mired in an identity crisis of sorts. It’s taken on a more local, less global raison d’etre as parts of the industry question whether they’ve outgrown the event. A number of trends — many of which will be discussed at this year’s confab, from CTV to privacy, retail media to market consolidation— have shifted the priorities of CEOs across the sector.

But by at least some metrics, Dmexco — following a canceled 2020 festival, a much-diminished 2021 followed by an encouraging 2022 return — is finally all the way back. This will mean different things to different execs, of course, however the consensus seems to be that while the event has steered away from global agendas there will still be enough international players there to justify the substantial outlay, which can stretch to seven figures once exhibit costs, tickets, travel and accommodation are totted up.

Let’s break down how these costs can quickly stack up. It starts at €280 per square meter for exhibitors who book early, but that figure jumps to €380 for latecomers. Then there’s the marketing expenses needed to promote your presence, which can range from €3,000 to €6,000 depending on the package you choose. On top of that, accommodation costs can be steep, especially for hotels closest to the conference hall, where prices can soar to €532 per night. And don’t forget about travel — a round-trip train ticket from London to Cologne can set you back around £140 if purchased up to a week in advance. And, of course, there’s the cost of dining and drinks during your stay. All in all, it adds up pretty quickly.

Given these expenses, it’s no surprise that some companies have had to tighten their spending this year.

“The stand out has been peoples’ reticence to not go all in on mega stands and instead focus on squeezing the networking juice out of Dmexco,” said Julia Linehan, CEO, and founder of The Digital Voice, a PR and marketing company representing clients attending the event.

This certainly was the case for execs at French ad tech vendor Ogury. 

“We decided against a stand this year, but this hasn’t turned into a hindrance,” said Jan Heumüller, managing director of Central Europe at Ogury. “In fact, our scope of arranged meetings has surpassed last year’s outing. The conference continues to be an incredible networking opportunity for industry professionals, with the social element enabling marketers to meet new and familiar faces, from business leaders to younger talent.”

The prevailing mantra for companies like this seems to be making every interaction count and prioritizing smaller yet more impactful activations.

“We’re doing it by bringing together publishers to private events outside of Koelnmesse in the evening and then hitting the halls during the day,” said Anders Lithner, CEO and founder at Brand Metrics, the global brand uplift measurement specialist.

Other companies have taken the opposite approach — just not yet at pre-pandemic levels.

“TripleLift has adopted a ‘bigger is better’ approach for Dmexco 2023; our team on the ground and our booth will be larger than in 2022,” said Sylwia Iwanejko-Sajewska, country manager for the DACH region at the ad tech business. “This year we expect conversations to be around how to elevate the digital ecosystem and how advertisers can find the digital ‘holy grail’ — the perfect blend of creative, media and data technology to achieve optimal results.”

Clearly, for executives like Iwanejko-Sajewska, the steep costs of attending Dmexco are justified. Where else can they have the chance to meet and pitch to so many executives in such a short time frame? This sentiment is echoed by Anna Lavrova, senior director of demand partnerships at ad tech vendor LoopMe.

“Europe leads the way in driving online privacy and online data regulations laws, so Dmexco is still a must-attend for brands looking forward to the latest developments and conversations surrounding audience and identity solutions,” said Lavrova. “While some U.S. companies are scaling back their presence this year, the event still delivers huge returns in connecting with new and existing clients — especially for those who have a strong presence in Europe.”

This year, that final point holds particular relevance given Dmexco has a more localized vibe than ever before. This shift is partly intentional, but it’s also a reflection of the thriving state of European ad tech. In fact, the French ad tech scene alone has injected approximately $500 million into M&A activity in Europe in 2023, as reported by investment firm First Party Capital’s market analysis for the year thus far. 

“Seedtag is significantly increasing its investment in Dmexco this year and will have 20+ people on the ground, which reflects the growth we are seeing in Germany and EMEA as a whole,” said Jordi Capdevila Espitia, global head of marketing at Spanish ad tech business Seedtag. “There’s definitely a reduced presence from international companies this year, but the region is strong enough that there is still plenty of value in a more local event. We’re excited to move our partnerships forward at the event and discuss pressing topics, in particular, achieving personalisation without cookies.”

But don’t think the event has gone all local. 

American heavyweights such as FreeWheel, Magnite, Index Exchange, PubMatic and Verve will be out in force. PubMatic, for instance, will have senior execs from both its global and regional teams including chief growth officer Paulina Klimenko and chief revenue officer for EMEA Emma Newman at its booth in the main conference hall. Meanwhile, Verve has assembled a delegation of around 25 executives, five more than last year, including its vp of marketing Corey Kulis.

“Dmexco is essentially the ultimate networking hub for the ad tech industry,” Kulis remarked, anticipating a flurry of commercial deal activity. “Here, we tend to engage in more mid-level management meetings where the focus is on sealing deals and forging connections with handshakes, as opposed to some of the larger events we attend, where discussions lean towards higher-level conversations that often require more time to materialize.”

As true as this may be for many ad tech executives in attendance, there’s a prevailing sense, more so than ever this year, that the event could benefit from a bit of a refresh.

“Undoubtedly, Dmexco has become a more localized event over the last couple of years,” said Peter Wallace, gm for EMEA at GumGum. “It also hasn’t evolved in format and vibe. [That said,] it’s still extremely important in the German event calendar and this year will dictate whether there is further movement towards more localisation.”

For executives like Wallace, attending Dmexco is akin to slipping into a pair of well-worn shoes – comfortable and familiar, but lacking the thrill of something new. They’ll arrive in Cologne, Germany the day before the event, join a dinner hosted by a partner, perhaps enjoy a few too many drinks, show up at the Koelnmesse conference venue slightly groggy for a day filled with meetings. If they’re lucky, they might catch a panel discussion in between, and then it’s off for another night of ad tech conversations over beers and Schnitzel. And, of course, the inevitable rush to catch trains and flights out of Germany right after the event wraps up. 

However, this routine isn’t necessarily a downside. 

Some executives find comfort in this predictability because it allows them to anticipate what’s coming and plan accordingly. The long list of hacks by Dmexco veterans have developed over the years to cope with the whirlwind of meetings, networking,  heavy consumption of beer, bratwurst and pork knuckles is a testament to that. Speaking of hacks, one tip that surfaced repeatedly during the research for this article is worth mentioning.

“A top hack is bringing a native German speaker with your team (thanks Norbert Horvath) and making crazy promises about a dawn run,” said Charlie Cadbury, CEO of voice-based ad tech business Say It Now.

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