Terry Kawaja is no stranger to conferences — he’s participated in hundreds of them over the course of his career as a media and tech advisor and founder of Luma Partners.
But Kawaja is pretty excited about a new conference coming up in a month that he believes super-serves the intersection of marketing, media and tech like no other tentpole does, be it CES, Cannes Lions, Advertising Week or Masters of Marketing. And he’s even invested in the new conference’s backers (he won’t say how much) without expecting a return on that investment anytime soon.
Kawaja talked with Digiday about Possible, the three-day conference being held in Miami from April 17-19 that will address the crossroads between marketing, media and tech. Founded and organized by Christian Muche, who’s best known in marketing and media circles for having converted Dmexco, a small German digital marketing expo, into a global event that at its height drew close to 50,000 attendees.
Muche has partnered with MMA Global, a marketing industry association, but also has a host of angel investors in Beyond Ordinary Events, the company behind Possible, from Kawaja to MediaLink CEO Michael Kassan and others.
Kawaja discussed his reasons for enlisting in Possible, and what he hopes it will accomplish.
The following conversation has been edited for clarity and space.
What first drew you to investing?
I was very familiar with Christian in terms of his work building Dmexco. I was very impressed with how he took what was effectively a regional German trade show into a global marketing, tentpole event, attracting international firms that span the gamut from agency to technology platform. It truly was a business development sort of wonderland. Then he got screwed by the owners of that conference.
I have for years lamented the fact that our default global marketing platform events are adjuncts of other conferences. We’ve got CES, which is an adjunct of a technology and equipment show. We’ve got Cannes Lions, where the digital conversation is an adjunct of an agency creative award show — so, like oil and water. And then we’ve got Advertising Week, which is, at best, a bit of a mishmash — it’s got no center of gravity to it
I have had dialogue with people going Jesus, we really need a clean slate a fresh approach. This new approach ought to have all players in the ecosystem: tech platforms, publishers, ad tech, martech, agencies and brands. The brand is the one spending the money on this technology or this media. So if they’re not in the equation, do you really have a conversation?
I invested not because I think this is going to be a big moneymaker. I did it to support the fact that we need a global event.
So what shape is Possible taking that feels different from all those other events?
There’s all these other facets that have a tremendously material impact on what we are largely talking about — consumer issues and consumers. They’re not thinking of clean rooms, they’re just thinking about their experience in media, or their experience with a product. So many of the issues that we try to address in marketing actually have to be considered with that wider aperture, with the sense of, Well, wait, what are we trying to accomplish here? And so you have to include facets that are much, much broader than just advertising or even marketing.
It starts with senior people. If you don’t have senior people, the event is a bust. I’m actually not hung up on quantity. I said, so if we start small, and then build it up, that will be fantastic. Get the VVIPs and then build from that.
And we’ve got a variety of different stages, which is one thing that Christian brought from his Dmexco experience: the notion of simultaneous stages going on so that you could pick your poison. You’re not obligated to stay in one room and listen to one thing, if that’s not what you’re there for. Different sizes for different types of crowds. And so you can manifest a variety of different media.
What will you be doing at Possible?
They asked me to moderate a panel with Magnite, GMC and Disney. Then I’m doing something that’s quite unique — I’m doing a comedy thing at the end of the first day. Which is going to turn some heads.
As an investor, what kind of return can you expect on Possible?
Event organizations can be good cash flow businesses, but we’re not talking about changing anyone’s life. I really put that money in because I wanted to lend my name to it. And it didn’t make sense to lend my name to it without the investment. Because I do think it’s needed, and I think it’s the right approach.
By the way, we’ll figure out what we did right and what we didn’t do right after this. We’ll sit down and say, ‘Ok, let’s make it better next year’ and hopefully improve on it.