Some Companies Question Dmexco’s Move to Hold Ad Tech’s Biggest Event

Germany is lifting restrictions, but some companies question the global festival

It can cost upwards of $20,000 to exhibit at Dmexco, a tall order for many ad tech companies struggling to withstand the pandemic.

Key insights:

There’s no Oktoberfest. Professional soccer will resume, but without fans. Will ad tech become another casualty of the pandemic?

Attendees and exhibitors are questioning the viability of ad tech’s biggest industry event, Dmexco. While its host country of Germany has begun to relax restrictions and reopen businesses after two months of coronavirus-induced lockdowns, multiple companies have told Adweek they have serious reservations about attending the event, with some believing it should be canceled outright.

“The utility of Dmexco is it’s [a] jam-packed, meeting-upon-meeting, elbow-to-elbow environment. Companies can get an amazing amount of business done in a very short period of time. With the health crisis, social distancing recommendations and lack of a vaccine, it seems to be better to wait a year and come back strong in 2021,” said Jeremy Fain, CEO and co-founder of Cognitiv.

The German state of North Rhine-Westphalia, where Dmexco is held, has given the green light to trade shows. As of now, Dmexco is still scheduled to take place in-person Sept. 23-24 in the city of Cologne.

According to its website, Dmexco is taking safety measures such as “appropriate hygiene, distancing between stakeholders and interaction with one another, as well as consequent specifications for the processes in place at entrances, in the halls and at the stands.”

If the event is canceled or postponed by Koelnmesse, the venue for Dmexco, exhibitors will be fully reimbursed.

But, as ID5 CEO Mathieu Roche explained, “the whole point of an event like that is to meet with as many people as possible, so we’re worried it won’t have the impact we’d like if they put all these restrictive measures in place.”

Exhibiting at Dmexco can cost upwards of five figures, an especially expensive proposition during a time when ad-tech companies are struggling to keep the lights on. A basic stand can cost over $21,000, according to Dmexco marketing materials. Some exhibiting companies may opt to (at least attempt) to recoup their spend, and start to revise their contracts.

Roche said Dmexco has told exhibitors they can cancel up to six weeks ahead of the construction of their booths, though they’d lose 25% of their deposits. Construction will begin Sept. 20, according to Dmexco’s website.

Dmexco has not yet returned Adweek’s request for comment, which included questions about its reimbursement policy and clarification on the specific appropriate hygiene and social distancing measures it will be enacting.

‘European roadshow’ won’t be the same this year

Dmexco is a cornerstone event for ad-tech companies, usually attracting up to 40,000 attendees, especially vendors. Roche said ID5 still plans on attending unless overall participation massively diminishes because “we stand to lose a lot more from missed opportunities if the show doesn’t happen.”

Other European conferences that have traditionally been correlated to Dmexco—the potential revenue and connections from these events would usually justify a trans-Atlantic trip for U.S. executives—are under review, if not canceled. Conference organizers of ATS London, the biggest Anglophone ad-tech gathering in Europe (currently scheduled for Sept. 17)  are reviewing how the event will be conducted in compliance with the safety guidelines set by the U.K. government.

Meanwhile, the International Broadcasting Convention in Amsterdam, which was supposed to take place Sept. 11-14, has been canceled. Companies overseas now have less of a reason to fly employees out to hit Europe’s trio of events (and those employees don’t have the incentive of tacking on a vacation to Oktoberfest, which was supposed to take place from Sept. 19 to Oct. 4 but was canceled back in April).

Anyone who does go can’t even take in a soccer game. Germany’s Bundesliga 2019-2020 season recommenced last weekend, but fans aren’t allowed in the stadiums.

“While Germany has shown encouraging steps in lifting [its] lockdown, with football matches being played last weekend and shops slowly opening their doors to customers, the decision to cancel Dmexco appears a practical and necessary one in line with other large-scale industry events such as the Cannes Lions Festival and IBC,” said Maike Selle, account manager for supply operations at SpotX.

A blueprint for post-lockdown conferences?

There is some speculation that Dmexco could turn into a fair for just Germany-based executives. However, one source—whose company spends “well into six digits” in total expenses for Dmexco—said there’s less of an appeal without a global audience.

“Given the currently limited interest [and] attendance of non-European companies for 2020, it is probably in Dmexco’s best interest to cancel this year, particularly if it wants to continue to be seen as a global event,” said the source.

As other countries start following Germany’s lead and open up more businesses, event organizers in the tech and media landscape will likely have their gaze fixed on how Dmexco progresses.

“This is a good barometer for what we’ll see going forward,” said one U.S. source, commenting on both niggling contractual issues as well as the potential logistics of post-lockdown conferences. “Honestly, this could be what we’re potentially going to see with things like CES or DreamForce.” 

@andrewblustein Andrew Blustein is a programmatic reporter at Adweek.