Last week while I was posting that ad agencies should innovate – perhaps even embrace crowdsourcing – something strange was happening at the Hilton Union Square, San Francisco. I wish I’d been there. Here’s what I’ve found out.
The AAAA (American Association Of Advertising Agencies) combined for the very first time their Leadership Conference (ad agency types) and their Media Conference (yep, media agency types) into one conference: “Transformations 2010”. Flailing to be seen as up to date, they called this “the mash-up (sic) of the association’s Media and Leadership Conferences”.
Are you struck by some puzzling questions? I was.
Why wasn’t this always one event? Isn’t there just one purpose for all those people – to help build their clients’ business through marketing communications? Isn’t this symptomatic of why marketing communications, and the ad agency business in particular, are in turmoil?
To the A’s credit, they did invite some “digital” speakers. Carol Bartz and Arianna Huffington. Google, the giant of online advertising wasn’t there. Nor was Facebook, the next online ad giant. The mightiest of the search and social media players. Either of them is more important to the ad business now and for the future than Yahoo and Huffington Post combined. Maybe they couldn’t make it.
The 4As also didn’t invite BootB or IdeaBounty which I linked to in last week’s post. No surprise.
“The goal of the conference is gathering the entire media and marketing ecosystem into one room and onto the same page,” said 4A’s President and CEO Nancy Hill. “In a world where everything is digital and global, the conversations about the transformation of the business needs (sic) to be held together, so that we can cooperatively find solutions to the challenges ahead.”
For those of you without a Babel Fish in your ear that’s Adfolkian for “The ad agency business is screwed. Fine, we admit we don’t “get it” and that we really are all in the same business. Now, will you please explain where the life rafts are”.
The 4As also boasted of “18 women speakers, roughly one out of three, [which] marks the highest percentage and number of women in the history of 4A’s events”. Wow! In an industry where the proportion of women is closer to double that and those 18 speakers included outsiders Ms. Bartz and Ms. Huffington.
It sounds like the real highlights of the conference were the “seven guest, five-minute sessions from the winners of the 4A’s Transformers Contest, which asked users to submit their own ideas and concepts for revolutionizing the advertising industry”. That’s right: “You have 5 minutes to explain how to fix the massively screwed up Ad Industry. Starting…. NOW!”
Here’s the best I’ve seen or heard. Sean Boyle, Global Planning Director of JWT taking 2 deserved minutes longer than the 5 allowed for his witty, wise presentation: “The Stop/Start 10 Commandments”. It’s a hand-held wobbly vid, but worth it.
There’s a .pdf of Sean’s presentation here.
The 4As also included in the seven winners, to their credit, the uber-cranky George Parker of AdScam – think gonzo without Hunter T -who described last year’s 4As Leadership Conference as a “Giant Wank Fest!” Google him. That’s a comment well to the “G” end of the Parker ranting-scale.
Here’s my own short rant:
I’ve built and run some ad agencies and I’ve co-founded and run a digital heavy hitter. I’ve run some media agencies, a network of CRM companies and two networks of “activation” companies. My conclusion from those nearly 360 degrees of experience is the only thing more mindless and unprofessional than scam ads is the silo-ed, paranoid, “We’re better than you are. Nyah nyah nyah nyaaah nyah” way those 5 disciplines have failed to pull together to build their clients’ business. Now, get on with it!
There is light, though.
Here’s how the 4As recognizes the mess when promoting their “highly successful and in-demand 4A’s workshop “Agency 2.5: How Agencies Are Transforming for the Future” [which] looks at the traditional agency model and discusses what to relinquish, what to rework, and what to reinvent”.
“It’s time for marketing communications firms to address the realities facing our industry:
- There’s less demand for what agencies traditionally have to sell.
- Clients need more help in online marketing, particularly social media, but agencies aren’t set up to provide it.
- Agencies are spending their energies above-the-line while clients are spending their budgets below-the-line.
- Agencies are stuck in a structure that churns out “advertising” ideas instead of “business-building” ideas.
- Clients are hammering agencies on price and speed for work they perceive as a commodity.
- There’s a strong movement toward accountability that agencies aren’t prepared to address”.
Now if only there was hint of this recognition, and of this commitment to doing something about it, among the ad industry in Asia.