4A’s to Combine Media, Leadership Confabs in ’10

SAN FRANCISCO The American Association of Advertising Agencies next year will combine its annual leadership and media conferences into a single event, 4A’s CEO Nancy Hill said today.

Having separate conferences for creative and media agencies no longer makes sense given that creative development and media strategy increasingly are intertwined, said Hill (pictured). She also acknowledged that having a single conference would be more efficient.

Hill and 4A’s chairman Tom Carroll revealed next year’s plan during their opening remarks at this year’s leadership conference in San Francisco, which is focusing on the “new realities” of marketing today.

The media conference is among the 4A’s most popular gatherings, attracting in peak years more than 1,000 attendees. This year, however, attendance dropped to about 750-800, down from nearly 1,300 in 2008.

By comparison, this year’s leadership conference attracted just 300, down from an estimated 375 last year. Attendance at both conferences was impacted by budget cutbacks related to the recession.

Next year’s combined gathering will take place in Austin, Texas, most likely in March, though no date has been set. As with this year’s setting, Austin represents a working city rather than a resort locale, which was typical of past leadership or management conferences. The 4A’s annual management conference, which began with the establishment of the association in 1917, was re-branded the leadership conference two years ago.
 
The media conference began in the mid-1990s, as the planning and buying functions began to be unbundled from creative agencies and standalone media agencies became commonplace. Now, however, as the placement of marketing messages becomes nearly as important as the messages themselves, clients are calling for greater collaboration among the disciplines.

Among those clients is Microsoft, which was represented in a panel discussion today that was moderated by McCann Worldgroup chief operating officer Eric Keshin. When asked how agencies and clients could better work together, Mich Matthews, a senior vice president in Microsoft’s central marketing group, said: “The one thing that is driving me crazy is [that] media and creative [development] need to be as one.”

The two disciplines should have a “symbotic relationship and media needs to lead far more than it [currently] does to effectively serve clients, Matthews added.

In an effort to bridge the gap, Matthews said she brought executives from Microsoft creative agencies McCann Erickson, JWT and Crispin Porter + Bogusky to meetings with television networks last week.

Carroll, in his remarks, said, “Media matters more than ever to the idea,” adding: “They’ve got to get closer together.”

In their wide-ranging speeches, both Carroll and Hill acknowledged the need for greater diversity at ad agencies. The relative lack of African-Americans in particular is the focus of an effort by a civil rights attorney and the NAACP, which recently called on clients to spur their agencies to increase the percentage of African-Americans in their ranks.

“We have to take a much stronger role in this,” said Carroll, worldwide CEO of Omnicom Group’s TBWA. “It’s not just start a committee and throw some money at it. We have to deal with it at the grass-roots level.”

Hill added that a “real, tangible commitment to diversity and inclusion — coming straight from the top — is our most powerful tool to win the hearts and minds of the next generation of agency leaders, and at the same time become more inclusive and more relevant.”

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