Did the Digital Dealer Conference Find a New Home in Tampa?

by · April 30, 2015

DD18 Tampa Convention Center


My DD18 Summary


Just returning from my visit to the 18th Digital Dealer Conference & Exposition in Tampa, my first event as a 3 Birds rep. Got to say, this was one of my favorite recent DD conference experiences.

For starters, the location was a real winner! Compared to the backlash of Atlantic City a year ago, Tampa was a home run, especially since, as Mike Roscoe the conference founder pointed out, “it did not rain too much and make coming and going a wet one.”

Based on conversations I had with dealers and exhibitors, people were consistently happy with the location for multiple reasons…


The surrounding area was nice!

The district where the convention center is located is pedestrian-friendly and not congested with traffic. The downtown feel combined with water views and the Riverwalk give the area unique character.


There was water and boats and docks and piers!

Water is always good, something that Vegas and Orlando, both regular locations, do not offer. The small harbor and channels provided a relaxed and scenic atmosphere with all the venues scattered around.


There was a great selection of nice hotels!

Embassy Suites was adjacent to the convention center. A Marriott was next door and a Hilton was a 5-minute walk down the street. Each of course with energetic food venues.


There was a good variety of food and entertainment venues!

Beyond the hotels were numerous different venues and cuisines from which to choose. Jackson’s Bistro was a short bridge walk across the water with a lively atmosphere where multiple vendor parties were held. Also nearby were pubs, cantinas, etc., not to mention the tiki bar out front of the convention center.


3 Birds Booth at DD18

A Busy 3 Birds Booth


Education and Exposition

As usual, the event consisted of a meaty selection of educational sessions plus a large but not overwhelming exhibit hall. As an exhibitor I was tied to the booth and not able to partake in the sessions much, but dealer traffic in the exhibit hall was flush between sessions. During the end-of-day cocktail hours you got a feel for the volume of dealers in attendance. In recent DD events I found dealer attendance and energy lower.

There were signs placed in front of each session room prompting attendees to report “pitchy” presentations by sending a text. I am curious to know how many complaints there were. If there is one thing I hear time and again about Digital Dealer is that the sessions are more like sales pitches.

The only way I can see eliminating this from being a problem is by not permitting speakers to discuss a topic related to their product. While this might seem absurd at first, I surmise that it would cause speakers to be more empirical about their topics and audience rather than speaking from an expert mentality.

Just because we sell or represent a product or company does not mean we can’t explore and present other topics. I, like most of us, am constantly trying to expand my knowledge and preparing a presentation does this for you.

Most dealers I spoke with were there for the sessions, not the exhibit. But that of course doesn’t keep them from being in the exhibit hall. At the 3 Birds booth we spoke with several Toyota dealers gaining insights from the digital assessments 3 Birds provides. We also had a lot of biz dev activity going on and gave away 100% of our branded t-shirts and balsa wood airplanes.

The only session I was able to drop in on was Dean Evans’ panel discussion Millennials, Mobile and Moving the Metal with Joe Webb, Subi Ghosh, and Bill Simmons.


Joe and Shaun Karaokethon


Serious Social Networking

Although I am a social creature, it amazes me how much is put into the social events at these conferences, particularly into drinking. Sometimes it seems like pushing your limits each night after a long day of sessions is to be expected. We all know better yet we futilely resist the temptation to “party on!” All in good fun though of course. Besides, what else is there to do?


This time around I hit four events:

The Marchex Kickoff party on Tuesday that rolled into the FlickFusion sponsored party. This simple unassuming cocktail reception was on the second floor of Jackson’s Bistro surrounded by glass walls with a balcony to boot. Hors d’oeuvres were passed around on party trays where dealers and vendors intermingled. Once the alcohol got to my head, I departed.

Following the VIN party was Joe and Shaun’s Karaokethon, a party event that Joe Webb and Shaun Raines have been doing now at Digital Dealer Conferences for years now. I was so busy having a good time there I failed to take any great pictures, but there were some excellent moments.

On Wednesday me and my posse hit the elegant VIN Solutions party in the Florida Room at the Marriott. VIN outdid themselves with gourmet food stations such as an exquisite cheese and fruit station, a seafood station with fried shrimp cocktails, scallops wrapped in bacon, and saffron risotto, a pasta station featuring multiple pasta dishes with rich sauces, a prime rib carver, plus other miscellaneous things to nibble. The music was energetic. There was a small hardly-used dance floor, and a makeshift photo booth where you and your group could try on different party hats and make a film strip of blurred photos.

Although I did not see everyone perform, I was particularly impressed with Mat Koenig’s performance of Are You Gonna Be My Girl by Jet. Mat Koenig, the purveyor of Buscadordeauto.com, really knocked it out of the park, unlike anyone I have ever seen at a karaoke.



Overall DD18 was a terrific event and I suspect the conference will return to Tampa before too long. The conference has a ton of credibility with good momentum behind it right now considering that sales in the auto industry are trending up strong and technology, marketing, and advertising continue to evolve at a highly accelerated pace.


Ryan Gerardi and Sara Callahan

Me with Sara Callahan at DD18 in Tampa

Producer and Host of the AutoConverse Future Mobility & Connectivity Podcast, Ryan began working in the automotive industry in 2001, establishing his roots in online vehicle merchandising before expanding into digital marketing and now multi media for Automotive B2B. You can connect with Ryan on LinkedIn.