Another sun has set on the latest Digital Dealer Conference and, from my perspective, it was a success. There were some new ideas introduced into the agenda and some atypical appearances that infused this Digital Dealer not only with a fresh flavor but, perhaps, a glimpse into a larger future.

First, I must congratulate the Digital Dealer team and Emerald Expositions for the registration set up. I very much appreciated the speed and efficiency – no more lines!

The educational sessions were top-notch. Around 100 speakers offered content that covered just about every area that dealers and their employees could take back to their stores and make a difference with right away. From Internet Managers all of the way up to Dealer Principals, there was something for everyone. Digital Dealer has always been largely a digital marketing focused event. However, these days, it seems that some very non-digital topics are being offered which simply serve to broaden the conference’s appeal in the automotive space.

While NADA is great, in my humble opinion, Digital Dealer conferences bring more of an intimacy when it comes to interactions between attendees, speakers and content.

Digital Dealer’s “Tech Tank” seems to have taken off as a hit with attendees, expanding from a single day into two days. This “Shark Tank” type event features 5 companies with new technologies designed specifically for the automotive industry to present to the audience their solutions in a 3-minute short elevator presentation followed by a Q&A by a panel of dealers. At the end, the audience votes live via text for the technology they think is most innovative. As a P.R. professional, it’s very interesting to see which solutions are getting introduced into the space and how dealers react to them. It’s also very informative as far as discovering solutions dealers consider most innovative and influential.

Another refreshing thing was to see so many women speakers! Every year it seems as if more women in the automotive industry are throwing their names into the speaking application pot. There is no doubt that our industry has some very knowledgeable women and it is great to see women sharing their unique perspective on automotive topics with attendees.

One surprise was Digital Dealer’s elimination of the Peer Networking Roundtables. This dealership employee only session was uber-popular with attendees. In its place, Digital Dealer added sessions in departmental areas they titled “Identify, Discuss and Solve,” (IDS). These continued to be open forums where dealer attendees discussed what they wanted within their departments. They were moderated by highly qualified industry experts who led the discussions.

Exhibit Hall
While exhibitors certainly included the good old regulars, there were also some atypical exhibitors thus illustrating Digital Dealer’s expanding reach above and beyond the “digital” realm of the automotive industry. One example was a company that helps dealerships turn their car wash services into profitable side businesses. This type of company is outside the realm of what an attendee would normally see at a Digital Dealer conference, more what you would expect at a NADA conference., and it is interesting to see this type of expansion.

As always, one of the best parts of any conference is the opportunity to see friends, colleagues and clients in a condensed setting. Many auto industry professionals communicate regularly but don’t get an opportunity to meet face-to-face often. Seeing as Orlando is not far from my home in Clearwater, Digital Dealer 26 was a convenient and welcome opportunity for me to catch up with friends and clients.  I was sad that personal commitments kept me from a fantastic party organized by the Digital Dealer team. I hear it was enjoyed by many attendees. I would also have enjoyed the Karaoke-thon – watch out World you never know, I would LOVE to participate in a future one, so shall have to start practicing my song choice! Yeah, I know that would shock the heck out of some of you!

In the end, Digital Dealer continues to improve and adapt trying out new ideas under its new owners Emerald Expositions. From everything I heard, Digital Dealer 26 was well attended with over 700 dealer attendees and, as previously mentioned, some non-digital automotive solution providers jumping in to share their solutions. Just as in life, people and companies evolve, and Digital Dealer is certainly open to testing new ideas, and it is also enjoying a fresh mix of new exhibitors and attendees.

Great job to the Digital Dealer staff on another successful conference. 13 years is a long time, and, from my perspective, the sky is the limit for the future. Thanks for having me — I look forward to next time!

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