IAB Europe Embarks on Expansion and Restructuring

European Interactive Advertising Bureau bodies will convene next month to formulate a constitution. IABs based in European nations are expanding their operations, driven by a more mature, renewed and redefined central body: IAB Europe. Despite ongoing communication with the IAB U.S. however, the American and European organizations will have no strategic or operational relationship in the foreseeable future.

“[Europe] has started to wake up now, finally,” said IAB Europe President Alain Heureux. “It was very much U.S. and U.K. driven in the past, but you have counter forces on the continent now. The ultimate goal is to create professional, for-profit organizations,” he continued.

IAB Europe plans to restructure and reorganize the European bureau to provide a “more professional and more effective” central body, Heureux told ClickZ News.

Discussions regarding the future of the European organization have been taking place for more than a year. Now, representatives from each of the continent’s 15 national bodies will meet in Brussels on May 6 and 7 to draw up a constitution defining a new role for the IAB Europe, as well as a funding and staffing structure to support it.

The renewed organization will seek to represent not only advertisers, agencies and publishers, but pan-European corporations such as mobile operators and television companies, offering membership on a tiered basis. The IAB U.S., primarily publisher-based, has a similar tiered membership structure.

The primary role of the bureau going forwards, according to Heureux, will be to represent and defend the industry in relation to legal and public affairs, and be prepared to “educate European regulators properly” on issues surrounding the industry. The European Parliament, for instance, held a hearing regarding Internet data privacy concerns in January.

Secondly, it will work on, and invest in “standardization and harmonization” across the continent. Heureux believes display ad formats, video and rich media units, search advertising, as well as ad targeting are areas in which pan-European standards can and should be established. Whereas in the past the European market has been governed by vague guidelines, he said it is time to agree on “black and white rules” to govern these ad formats.

More long-term areas of interest include standards for mobile marketing and iTV. Research standards are not a priority, as research is strong enough at a local level to advance the European market, said Heureux.

The IAB Europe was officially founded in November 2006, with the aim of creating a pan European organization to facilitate communication and promote cooperation among national bodies.

Rather than addressing issues and best practices, these national groups –established in Austria, France, Germany, Greece, Spain, Norway, Poland, Slovenia, Turkey, the U.K., and other countries — initially came together for networking purposes. The smaller bureaus were operating on a level different from their U.K. and U.S. counterparts, and many were small, inefficient bodies. Indeed, many had no permanent staff and were run solely by volunteers.

As part of the upcoming reorganization, each of the 15 national chapters will appoint a full-time General Manager, increasing the number of IAB staff across Europe to a total of 63.

Christian Peytz, president of IAB Denmark supported the new direction for the European body. “We joined the IAB network for two main reasons,” he said. “Firstly, it is important to have a pan-European forum in which to compare work, and to move towards standardization across Europe. Secondly, it’s important for us to have a voice to speak on behalf of the local industry. Many issues affecting the local market are regulated by Brussels,” he continued.

In addition to collaboration within Europe, Heureux also expressed an interest in working more closely with IABs outside the continent, particularly the U.S.

“We absolutely need to work all together,” he said. “We need to make sure that Europe and the U.S. are on the same path. It’s important not only on technical aspects but also on legal matters.”

This sentiment was echoed by the Erica DeLorenzo, IAB U.S. senior manager, industry initiatives and legal affairs. “It is critical for us to communicate and exchange information. There’s a lot of great thinking and work coming from within Europe that we can share amongst us, and help grow the industry.”

In practice however, it appears that the relationship between the organizations is one based largely on communication, as opposed to active cooperation. For example, the IAB Europe announced an initiative in October 2007 designed to establish standard international definitions for interactive audience measurement, titled Measurement of Interactive Audience, or MIA. Although this was endorsed by the IAB U.S., it seems that they have not had any input in the effort.

“This project is not that relevant to us right now,” DeLorenzo said at the time. “The U.S. has its own needs, and we are focusing on our own standards at the moment.” The U.S. operation called for research firms Comscore and Nielsen Online to subject their audience measurement methodologies to audits, currently underway.

When asked how closely the U.S. and Europe are working, DeLorenzo said they are “working independently, but with common goals.”

IAB U.S. Marketing Communications Director Marla Nitke reiterated the two are “wholly independent organizations,” with “no strategic or operating relationships.”

Although Heureux is keen to promote more intercontinental collaboration, he warned of the drawbacks of a global IAB brand.

“At times people can confuse the two organizations,” he said. “In some instances the IAB U.S. needs to be clearer when it is addressing a U.S. market on issues that could apply to Europe,” he said.

When asked about the possibility of global IAB standards, Heureux added, “We need to concentrate on Europe initially. When we have done our homework on the local market, we can sit together and try to bridge the U.S. and Europe, perhaps in two to three years time.”

Heureux aims to integrate five more countries into the European network in 2008, including Portugal, Ireland and Luxembourg, before opening up to the rest of Europe in 2009.

In addition, he plans to travel to Asia in May to discuss the foundation of a Chinese body. Nielsen estimates growth of display advertising in China in 2008 will be at least 50 percent more than that of 2007, in which $1.35 billion was spent on Web display ads. With the Chinese online ad market expanding rapidly, an IAB China could potentially emerge as an influential industry body.

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