TEMPE, Ariz. — As webmasters and business owners from around the globe gathered for what has become an annual pilgrimage to Phoenix, there were definitely a few strong winds of change that were noticeable right from the start.
This wasn’t the unpredictable conference it was in the Wild West days of the Internet, or the anxious one it was during the industry’s downturn.
It was something a bit tamer from a partier point of view, offering a strong business focus and facilitating important deals among the attendees who shared an undeniable sense of optimism about the future of the industry as a whole.
It was easy to find old friends and well-known faces in the crowd, along with a bigger influx of fresh new participants that had never been seen at adult industry shows in the past.
That mix certainly enhanced the gathering and enabled many to make new business acquaintances that may lead to lasting relationships for years or decades to come.
Newcomer Jonathan Buckheit, CEO of FriendFinder Networks, was among the surprisingly large contingent of first-time attendees at this year’s forum.
“As someone new to this industry, this was my first Phoenix Forum, and I found it to be a great place to network, learn, do business, and enjoy the company of my colleagues,” Buckheit told XBIZ. “I found the event was especially well-attended by both people from the payment processing as well as traffic and advertising worlds, which are both very important to our business at FriendFinder.
“The venue itself was very pleasant; nice lunches, snacks and recreation were all provided,” he said. “This is definitely a show I would make a point of attending again and my co-workers from FriendFinder who attended with me enjoyed it as well."
Madison Scott, a porn star and new studio business owner, attended her first show as well, with plenty of ideas and questions that she was able to get answered quickly while she sets the path for her company Studio C4 to take shape.
"The Phoenix Forum is the perfect place to network in a relaxed environment,” Scott told XBIZ. “I made all of the connections I need to further my business and had an incredible time. Live cams and virtual reality seemed to come up the most in conversation."
There was talk about the show being considerably smaller than in previous years, but that lack of pure size may have also been beneficial in some ways explained Justin, the CEO of Monetize.xxx.
"I’d guess the show attendance is down some but what I’m also noticing is that whining is down by a lot compared to a few years ago, because the people who are here this year are the ones that are looking to actually do business,” Justin told XBIZ.
“I picked up a few terrific domains this year and made some other deals that only get done when you can meet face to face with people who matter — and that’s what this year’s Phoenix Forum was all about.”
When asked how the show was going, there were big smiles and confident answers that rang true from almost every attendee interviewed.
Many companies had a leaner and more focused presence with less entourage and fewer reps on hand as executives attended in person to fuel the success of their companies in person.
On the gay side of the industry, attendance seemed to be up a bit over previous years. That rise was lead by new faces whose passion for their products seemed to spark a renewed level of energy in everyone they met.
“As a new niche website catering to gay cowboys, the Phoenix Forum was a must for us,” James Guld of GayCowboyRanch.com told XBIZ. “We were overwhelmed by the attention of every major player interested in our traffic and original content. Everyone was so approachable and personable. The information we gained and relationships we sparked will, without a doubt, take our site to the next level.
“At other shows, we leave with valuable contacts, at the Phoenix Forum there is a willingness to engage in deeper discussions and beyond useful contacts, we are leaving this show with many new friends as well.”
"MetArt was happy to see its business partners, and to find new possibilities,” Adam Scheuer, who leads business development for MetArt, told XBIZ.
Jeremy Wagshul, senior media buyer of Revolution Force agreed.
"It’s always amazing seeing the growth and trends that stem from the adult industry,” Wagshul told XBIZ. “The Phoenix Forum remains one of the best shows to connect with the biggest adult brands and related products."
Iconic brands were well represented, with a number of executives on hand to arrange deals for the new Penthouse.com.
Holly Ruprecht of Hustler seemed to be everywhere at the show. Meanwhile, Playgirl Managing Director Danny McKaren was sharing insights at seminars and elsewhere at this nonstop event.
"As a first-timer, The Phoenix Forum offered an unparalleled experience to meet with existing piers and to develop meaningful relationships with potential partners, in a gorgeous, fun, relaxed setting,” McKaren told XBIZ. “I'm glad I popped my TPF cherry and I'll definitely be returning."
There were also familiar industry veterans whose presence has set the tone at the forum over the years in ways that have helped it become one of the premier events year after year.
“This year's TPF felt more intimate than years past, but the main reason for making the annual trek still hold true — the high-caliber attendees and the warm weather,” said Nancy Roberts, general manager of glispa US.
“The Phoenix Forum stayed true to its core value add with the sessions, networking and community,” she told XBIZ.
“People often say shows are what you make of them, and that’s definitely true. But it’s also true that some shows make it easier than others for attendees to connect,” said Lauren MacEwen of 7veils.com. “As someone who works in social media specifically, I have an eye on the ways [organizer] Kathi Stout and everyone else involved with TPF fosters interactions, engagement and excitement at the show. They do a great job every year, and they did it again this year as well."
“The show went great for us,” said John M., director of sales and marketing for Too Much Media.
“We were booked solid with meetings throughout, provided demos of our latest software solution, NATS for Networks, and chatting up our clients,” he told XBIZ. “Having the ability to do all of that in a centralized location makes it much easier and enjoyable versus walking from casino to casino to get things done. They do a great job here of keeping the focus in one place.”
This year’s show sponsors also seemed very happy with the way the event turned out.
“The AdultCentro Team is always super excited about seeing everyone having a great time at the Late Night Poker Suites we co-sponsored,” said Julia Bluejay of AdultCentro.com. “Hope you checked out TubeCentro while slinging the cash on the poker table to see how you can make money sending traffic to a site filled with smut.
“EuroRevenue’s Nadya had a great time at speed networking and that wicked cool, Wild West shoot out in the courtyard! The Phoenix Forum gives every opportunity to network like a champ, and party like our lives depend on it — because who needs sleep, right?”
Without a doubt, the best-attended part of the show was the amazing "House of Slam" event produced by Adnium.
The show featured former Beastie Boys, Method Man and some of the most amazing beat-boxing your ears will ever hear as Grand Slam Media proved once again that “House of Slam” is the place to be for the perfect mixture of world-class entertainment and easy business opportunities.
“I had a great time at the Phoenix Forum this year, and ‘House of Slam’ was a terrific event,” James Deen told XBIZ. “It was a great experience, and I’m very excited about the promotional possibilities discussed with key people at the show that have agreed to promote JamesDeenCash.com and expand the influence of my brands.
“Even though I have been in the adult industry for more than 12 years, the network I’ve built around JamesDeenCash is still pretty new. Attending the Phoenix Forum leads to so many partnerships and makes advancing as a company so much easier than trying to succeed in a vacuum. Great show, thanks everyone.”
As the show ended and everyone returned to work with stacks of business cards to sort, contacts to follow up with and deals to finalize, it was the added layer of friendship that has long differentiated this industry from others that many respected executives mentioned.
Perhaps it was Megan Stokes, partner of NMG Licensing, who summed it all up best: “Phoenix is an important show because it is the kind of environment where acquaintances become friends and business prospects become solid relationships.”
“This year was exceptional for us and we will definitely be back again,” she told XBIZ. “It kind of makes you wish they would do this show monthly.”