LOS ANGELES — The 2013 XBIZ Summit in Miami spun up the latest installment of its educational seminar series with a roundup of the adult entertainment industry’s best and brightest, for an insider’s look at the many challenges and opportunities faced by this dynamic business segment today.
For photo coverage of XBIZ Summit 2013, click here.
Presented by AWEmpire, the 2013 XBIZ Summit took over the Coconut Grove, Fla.-based Mayfair Hotel & Spa from May 14-17, for its annual East Coast gathering, which provides educational, deal-making and networking opportunities for its elite audience of adult entertainment industry movers and shakers.
As the cornerstone of its educational offerings, XBIZ Summit provides attendees with a slate of seminars featuring experienced panelists that offer expert insights on a range of important issues.
With live interactive sex shows responsible for a huge chunk of the adult entertainment ecosystem, considerable attention was garnered by the day’s first session — as webcam powerhouse AWE grabbed the spotlight — with a special session on “How to Sell Live Interactive Content,” hosted by Douglas Richter and assisted by Guido from AWEmpire.
Richter used the session to announce and showcase the company’s latest live offerings, including three new sites: LJ.com, JasminBoys.com and JasminFetish.com. He described the new sites as “Facebook meets a dating site with cams,” to illustrate the sites’ winning combination of user, model and community interaction, for a true social network.
Richter demonstrated new program features such as clubs, where users can participate in arenas of shared interest, and discussed the use of Fleshjack on the gay side of things and delved into the company’s popular white label product, which offers 36 unique features that give it an edge over competitors.
New features such as a fifth column layout that allows extra cam previews to be shown on a wider screen layout, along with custom white labels from premium partners were displayed for a look at the possibilities, with features such as responsive design that renders the site to the user, regardless of his or her access device.
Richter advised white label operators to put their best foot forward through extensive customizations and by spending the time necessary to separate their site from the pack.
“Brand integration is vital,” he said, and included tips for recovering from recent penalties levied against stock white labels by Google, as well as offering advice for properly promoting cams, such as through tools including the company’s free chat applet.
Another advantage that AWEmpire has is in being its own support center, Richter explained, adding, “Soup to nuts, we are our own service provider.”
Following the AWE workshop was an executive session on Business Development: Forging Relationships that Last, moderated by XBIZ’ Kristen Kaye. Panelists include Karen Campbell from OribitalPay, Harmik Gharapetian from Epoch, GameLink’s Jeff Dillon, Douglas Richter from AWE and JuicyAds’ Jimmy “Wizzo” Foreman, who took a look at what it takes to endure in adult, or any other industry relying on relationships.
Among the topics was how to source leads, with Foreman telling the audience that he likes to rely on historical and personal relationships.
“Rarely can someone offer you something that you can’t get elsewhere,” Foreman said. “So it comes down to wanting to do business with those people that you have established personal relationships with over the years.”
Gharapetian agreed, citing the small, tight nature of the industry, the value of attending trade shows and of building a reputation over the years.
“Network and be trusted,” Gharapetian offered.
Dillon also agreed, saying that the highest closing success rate is obtained from personal networking. He advised attendees to stand while talking to clients on the phone, as it does improve closing rates by making you less relaxed and more on top of things.
Richter told the audience that 80 percent of his new business comes from attending shows and from personal referrals from other clients. He also noted the need to work with people you like in order to get the best results.
Campbell explained that you need to be an honest person, due to the tight knit nature of the industry and recommended XBIZ’ speed networking sessions, advising participants to ensure they follow up afterwards.
The value of reputation, the need to leverage social media, including message boards, and the necessity of reaching key decision makers was also covered.
“Reaching decision makers is easier today than in years past because companies are bringing fewer reps to the shows,” Foreman stated, adding that “the best person to talk to isn’t always the boss.”
Richter agreed, saying, CEOs are very busy people, so you will not get a lot of their time.
Campbell advised attendees to Google company information in order to find the right contact person to talk to, saying, “it’s all about getting leads to the right people.”
“Networking will get you into management channels,” Gharapetian stated. “Don’t waste people’s time, talk to the right people.”
Dillon echoed this approach, advising attendees to seek out and develop relevant, but often lower to mid-level, internal advocates that can carry your case forward within an organization, helping you to seal the deal.
Team building tactics took, center stage with Mastering Effective Business Collaboration, featuring Brad Mitchell from MojoHost, CCBill’s Gary Jackson, Harmik Gharapetian from Epoch and Hustler’s Michael Klein, moderated by XBIZ’ Stephen Yagielowicz.
This session focused on the development of mutual interests within an organization, with topics including internal team building, where the ability to attract and retain key talent is a vital consideration; the impact of turnover on trust; how management styles can affect corporate culture and finding a balance between in-house and remote workers.
External team building issues such as the use of freelancers and passing chores to outside service providers (such as a paysite turning over customer support duties to a third-party billing provider’s call center staff) were also discussed, as a means of generating shared competitiveness while allowing firms to focus on their core competencies.
“Human resources are a tough proposition in adult,” Klein told attendees. “There are not a lot of adult specific job resources.”
Klein advises a 90-day probationary period for new hires to ensure the right fit between employer and employee.
Gharapetian says that Epoch likes to reward excellence by promoting from within.
“We use our call center employees as a breeding ground, so they know the business from the ground up,” Gharapetian stated. “And we provide them with incentives to excel.”
The company also relies on referrals from existing employees when seeking new staffing.
Mitchell notes that as a smaller but fast growing employer, MojoHost’s challenge is to transition to a larger, more organized and refined corporate structure. One way in which the company addresses this issue is by leveraging its internal training program, where two or three employees are hired at the same time, to improve training, to reduce costs and to mitigate the negative effects of employee attrition.
“Hire slow, fire fast,” Mitchell advises.
Time is everything when developing a team and it is an investment and resulting benefit that should not be taken lightly.
“Our average tenure is seven years,” Jackson told attendees, adding, “We try to grow from within by giving opportunities to support staff. CCBill provides an environment of opportunity and accountability and draws folks in through optimism and the availability of success.”
The eternal quest for adult website traffic next took the stage with an executive session on User Monetization and the Future of Affiliates, featuring Daniel Rand from Adult AdWorld, Robert Levy of ReallyUsefulCash, Affil4You’s Brian Elkan, Hustler’s Sean Holland and Geoffrey Bonnechère of ExoClick, with XBIZ’ Stephen Yagielowicz serving as the panel’s moderator.
Topics included a look at whether or not affiliates remain a profitable part of the traffic mix as well as alternatives to this historic traffic source, along with factors influencing the profitability of affiliates — such as risks with pay per sale (PPS) programs and the benefits of revenue sharing.
Affiliate evolution was also discussed, as the market moves from stereotypical lone wolf affiliates to larger companies and internal promotional work, while coming to grips with the benefits that external affiliates still bring to the table.
Levy explained that although the affiliate model has changed, without affiliates, many companies would see a huge drop in traffic and revenue. Elkan pointed out the distinction between mobile and web affiliates, which are different entities with different skill sets, while Bonnechère offers direct media buying as an essential alternative to affiliates.
On the plus side for internal initiatives designed to supplement or supplant affiliates, Rand says that as a program owner, he would want to take as much control over his own program as possible, in order to gain more flexibility and to be able to pay for the traffic based on what it is actually worth.
“You can’t just launch a site without testing,” Holland said, detailing how this applies to not only opening it to affiliates, but in the need to perform due diligence before buying traffic for a site that does not convert or deliver an acceptable return on investment.
Levy echoed that sentiment, noting that testing will help determine if an offer is more profitable under revenue sharing or PPS, explaining that sites with quality niche content, such as Kink.com, make more money under revenue sharing, because members maintain their subscriptions for longer periods, earning affiliates a higher share of profits.
As for the size of their operation, Elkan notes that the affiliate game is not just for whales or power affiliates, saying, “There’s plenty of room for smaller players.”
Levy explained that independent affiliates can bring a level of diversity and a less myopic vision to promotional efforts than in-house staff, but warned of the dangers of having to compete with them for a slice of the same traffic pie.
When it comes to direct ad buys, size is not everything, with Rand explaining that smaller sites in a network may send less, but better quality traffic than do their large counterparts.
Ad networks also rotate their ads, so the placement may be superior to their static cousins and can help target traffic more carefully.
Bonnechère cites a benefit of ad networks as being one ad type can be used to serve traffic from around the world and on any device, with multiple offers, easing adult webmaster’s workloads while boosting revenues and opening the door to retargeting for even greater advertising effectiveness.
Developing traffic by creating a sense of community was also discussed, with the example of Kink.com’s new virtual presence in Utherverse’s Red Light Center, where avatars can interact with one another, bringing the Kink experience to a completely new level while engaging the customer through multiple touch points.
When buying traffic from an ad network, having more than one account is recommended, says Bonnechère, with a primary account delivering the highest quality traffic, while another account takes advantage of low cost per click pricing to gain high traffic volumes and to get your ad shown first, with frequency capping being a vital consideration.
Wednesday’s seminar schedule wrapped up with a look at Selling Sex: Branding, Marketing & Social Media, featuring Reporo’s Chi Lee, Shay Efron from IMLive, Jamie from Video Secrets, Lauren MacEwen of 7Veils and Ken of AdultDropShipper, with moderation by CCBill’s Laurie Biviano.
Ken was quick to note the importance of understanding your mix of marketing initiatives.
“We are looking at a variety of internal and external marketing services,” Ken said. “Understand who to reach out to in order to get traffic that is more targeted.”
Ken also raised awareness of the legacy effect of branding and social media, crediting sales to several year old message board posts indexed by Google; eliminating the notion that social media is only useful in the moment, without a solid sales backend.
Efron says that before launching a new advertising campaign or network, operators should find out which companies provide mobile billing services to non-credit card users and to see how their projects will fit into social media — segueing the discussion.
“Soften messages to get to potential users in a non-adult way,” Efron said, advising a tiered strategy of moving prospects into increasingly explicit fare, while noting that everything that ImLive does is also posted on Twitter.
Lee affirmed the strategy of blending content with marketing and branded redirects, pointing out the main differences between the mobile and web audiences.
“Mobile is the big growth sector,” Lee told the audience. “It’s definitely going to dominate going forward.”
Lee also said that Reporo relies on event sponsorships and other means to drive traffic.
“Through some type of luck we have gotten our names out there,” Lee told the audience. “At this point, it’s a lot of word of mouth.”
Jamie explained that social media is one sales channel that can reach both straight and gay consumers alike.
“We have a strong gay community and customers follow our models on social media,” Jamie said. “We’re careful to use the correct terms in our mailers and posts, however, along with gay hash tags.”
Jamie also emphasized the importance of having performers use Twitter and other means to stay in contact with their fan base.
“Most people take a shotgun approach to social media,” MacEwen stated. “You can’t just post a bunch of pictures; you have to be part of the community.”
As for the challenges of promoting porn on mainstream social networks, MacEwen noted the content restrictions and other issues that keep adult marketers at bay.
“These networks are free to use,” MacEwen stated. “They don’t need to cater to you, you need to cater to them.”
“Marketing is what keeps your business growing and strong,” MacEwen concluded, underscoring the session’s value.
Biviano then wrapped up the session by inviting attendees to the CCBill cocktail reception in the Mayfair Hotel’s Asian Garden. Later, at the evening’s Mix & Meet session, Orbital Pay raffled off a 40” smart TV, which was won by Stephen Bugbee of X2K, adding to the festivities.
Not long after the Mix & Meet, the thirsty Summit crowd gravitated back to the rooftop pool for the Baller Blitz, which featured the XBIZ Summit Bikini Contest, live rock music from renowned guitarist George Lynch and an open bar hosted by XBIZ president Alec Helmy.
Gamelink's Dillon MC'ed the lively Bikini Contest, with help from the reigning XBIZ Web Star of the Year Vicky Vette. After three rounds of various pose-downs that included contestants displaying acts of flexibility such as full splits on the stage, the field was narrowed to three finalists: Veronica Rodriguez, Janessa Brazil and former Hooters calendar model, Jessica Renee.
After one final strut by each of three remaining competitors and a careful gauge of crowd applause, the stunning Janessa Brazil won the Miss XBIZ Summit title, receiving a white sash and a silver tiara along with a grip of hundred-dollar bills. Brazil even flashed her jaw-dropping rack during the winning moment.
The ladies cleared the stage for a quick Mankini contest and then Lynch and his three-piece band kept the crowd amped with electric guitar riffs that extended deep into the steamy evening.
The festivities continued at the Cybersocket Opening Party at nearby Mr. Moe's, voted one of the top sports bars in the country.
In a repeat of the previous night’s exclusive XBIZ’ Movie Night success, XBIZ Summit attendees were treated to a showing of the 1980’s era gangster classic, “Scarface,” hosted by Wasteland’s Colin Rowntree in the Mayfair Hotel’s Crystal Ballroom.
A classic film fan, Rowntree was excited about hosting XBIZ’ Movie Night events, which gave him the chance to emulate one of his favorite TV hosts, Robert Osborne of Turner Classic Movies.
Rowntree explains that Scarface is a significant film for event attendees who have never seen it, as parts of the movie were filmed in Coconut Grove near the Summit’s hotel — for those who have already seen this version of Scarface, however, it was a must-view trip down memory lane.
The 1983 crime film was directed by Brian De Palma, written by Oliver Stone, produced by Martin Bregman, and starred Al Pacino as Tony Montana; telling the story of a Cuban refugee who comes to Miami in 1980 as part of the Mariel Boatlift, and becomes a drug cartel kingpin during the cocaine boom of the 1980’s.
“Scarface was given an X rating three times (original, second, and third cuts) for extreme violence, frequent strong language and hard drug usage,” Rowntree told XBIZ. “Director Brian De Palma pulled in a panel of experts, including real narcotics officers, who stated that the film was an accurate portrayal of the real-life drug underworld and should be widely seen.”
“This convinced the 20 members of the ratings board to give the third cut an ‘R’ rating by a vote of 18-to-2. De Palma later asked the studio if he could release his original cut, but was told ‘no,’” Rowntree added. “However, since the studio executives did not know the differences between the three submitted cuts, De Palma released his director’s cut to theaters anyway — with an unapproved ‘R’ rating.”
This release was an act of civil disobedience, which resonates with many in the adult entertainment industry and which brought the full, uncensored version of Scarface to the world and to the XBIZ Summit, shown under a special performance license granted by Swank Motion Pictures on behalf of Universal Studios.
Once again, the “Chase the Ace” Casino Night event sponsored by MyFreeSexStore.com finished out the evening.
XBIZ's Dan Miller contributed to this story. Stay tuned to XBIZ.com for continuing coverage of this sensational Summit event.