DMEXCO 2018: What to expect as the tech conference returns for its ninth year

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(l.-r.) Facebook's Carolyn Everson and Nestlé's Tom Buday with IAB's Anna Bager at last year's event
(l.-r.) Facebook's Carolyn Everson and Nestlé's Tom Buday with IAB's Anna Bager at last year's event Credit: Dmexco

The Digital Marketing Exposition and Conference, more commonly known as DMEXCO, has been held in Cologne, Germany, every September since 2009. Here's what you need to know about the annual event, which kicks off again Sept. 12.

"It's the biggest conference you've never heard of," says Chris O'Hara, VP of product marketing for Salesforce Marketing Cloud."Most people mistake it for a Mexican conference … It is properly pronounced, 'Dee-Mex-Co,' although a lot of people call it 'dee-Mexico.'"

The conference attracts many large European brands, as well as their agencies, media and tech vendors, for strategic meetings with key customers and partners.

"We like to take advantage of the opportunity to meet our customers and partners in local markets, and also make sure Salesforce has a presence at important events," says O'Hara. "I am sure the halls will be abuzz with talk of programmatic television, IoT marketing, blockchain enabled data-sharing and privacy," he says. "Integration will likely be a key theme, as marketers continue to work to get a single view of the customer."

Declining attendance

Although DMEXCO is a key event on the conference circuit, attendance has been declining in recent years and tech companies interviewed for this story have admitted on background to skepticism. Last year marked a three-year low, as attendance fell 22 percent to 40,000 visitors year-over-year. Organizers have since fired conference co-founders Christian Muche and Frank Schneider, raising concerns over whether there would even be a DMEXCO in 2018.

There will indeed, however the EU's newly implemented General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) has meanwhile acted as a disincentive for some would-be attendees due to its stringent privacy requirements. Some tech companies fear lofty fines for violations, while others complain about the high cost associated with being compliant.

"If you are going it's because you have a business in the region, or are trying to expand to the region," says one ad tech CEO, who asked to remain anonymous to protect industry relationships. "But with the recent changes to privacy — GDPR — we have seen a lot of businesses de-prioritize this market."

Big tech still to serve as anchors

Still, many attendees anticipate a more focused event this year. Eric Visser, CEO and co-founder of JustPremium, says organizers have shifted their efforts to address the needs of its attendees instead of securing big name keynote speakers. Amazon, Google, Facebook and Snap are all present this year, and they're going to be alongside publishers such as the BBC, Vice, Mashable and Axle Springer.

"[That] reflects DMEXCO's refocus on the challenges within the digital ecosystem, rather than on famous speakers like Martin Sorrell and Sheryl Sandberg, who have both been featured in previous years," says to Visser.

James Prudhomme, head of international at Index Exchange, says the company has attended DMEXCO for six straight years now. "We started out with a pretty small group attending — just two people — but we've boosted our presence every year since," Prudhommee says. "Every member of the advertising ecosystem is there, from the North American market through to APAC and, of course, Europe."

Index Exchange says it has worked diligently (and spent money) to be GDPR compliant, and sees DMEXCO as an opportunity to help increase its European footprint.

Like others, Prudhomme believes believes first-party data will be a predominant theme at this year's event. "From a trends perspective, we can expect to see lots of talk around identity and the initiatives that are moving the needle there," he says. "Open identifiers like and Digitrust are enabling audience-based targeting at scale, and I expect everyone at DMEXCO will be talking about it."

Mark Grether, CEO of ad tech company Sizmek, also believes DMEXCO is a worthwhile event, even as the conference circuit becomes increasingly saturated.

"There are few opportunities where advertisers and partners from all across the ecosystem can be in the same space at one time and DMEXCO is one of them," he says. "DMEXCO is highly efficient and typically German; it offers an opportunity to meet with a lot of people and strengthen your understanding of the latest complexities of our industry, in only two days."

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