4A’s Looks to Future

LAGUNA NIGUEL, Calif. — Despite few tangible signs of economic recovery, speakers at last week’s management conference of the American Association of Advertising Agencies sounded a positive note. Acknowledgements of last year’s down economy were accompanied by talk of recovery and challenges for the future.

Outgoing 4A’s chairman Brendan Ryan urged agency executives to “regain control” of the new-business process, while incoming chair Ken Kaess challenged them to quantify brand-building results.

Speaking Friday at the 84th annual meeting of the 4A’s, DDB president and CEO Kaess asked executives to “help clients understand the power of these elusive-yet very real-ingredients that we add to brands.”

As part of a three-year strategic plan, Kaess suggested the 4A’s fund a major research study, conduct annual surveys on client needs and publish third-party articles or books about brand-building success stories. “Think about it,” he said. “If we could achieve this one goal-increasing the value of our product-wouldn’t that solve a lot of our ancillary problems? Wouldn’t clients be more willing to pay for a product they valued more?”

At a general session on Thursday, Foote, Cone & Belding CEO Ryan discouraged the practice of shops giving prospective clients the right to use their pitch ideas even if the agency isn’t hired. “The only thing we have to sell is ideas, and when you give them away for five grand [in a review], something’s wrong,” he said.

In a breakout session, Catherine Bension of Select Resources International echoed some of Ryan’s frustrations about the lengths shops go to for new business. To illustrate the desperation for new business, the president of the West Hollywood, Calif., search consultancy said a few agencies have criticized RFP recipients with the hope of knocking them out and opening up a slot for themselves.

Interpublic Group CEO John Dooner urged attendees to receive fair compensation for their services and work harder to better understand clients and consumers. In particular, shops must strive to coordinate the delivery of different marketing services, he said, adding, “The one of the majors that gets this right, wins the game.”

At a general session on Friday, top media-agency executives discussed the evolving role of their business. Ira Carlin, chairman of IPG’s Magna Global Worldwide, predicted that clients may soon award media shops “agency-of-record” accounts by demographics rather than overall buying and planning assignments.

About 300 people attended the conference at the Ritz-Carlton hotel here, down from 325 last year.

BBDO, Carmichael Lynch, Gabriel deGrood Bendt and Burrell Communications Group were winners in the O’Toole Awards, the competition open to association members and named after the late 4A’s president John O’Toole [see page 28].

The 4A’s also elected officers and directors for 2002-03. Jim Heekin, CEO of McCann-Erickson WorldGroup, was tapped as vice chairman. Marsha Lindsay, president and CEO of Lindsay, Stone & Briggs Advertising in Madison, Wis., was re-elected secretary-treasurer. New directors, who will serve three-year terms, include Bob Brennan, president of Leo Burnett; Mike Dolan, chairman and CEO of Young & Rubicam; and Bob Jeffrey, president of J. Walter Thompson.