Advertising Week Sees Changes for 5th Edition

NEW YORK Acknowledging that the thick lineup of events for Advertising Week could prove overwhelming for some attendees, the co-chairs of the fifth annual industry event have scheduled the bulk of next week’s activities at a few core venues that are within walking distance of each other in midtown Manhattan.

Also, to help attendees find what they’re most interested in, Advertising Week added a function to its Web site that enables visitors to search the week’s events by topic words. In addition, co-chairs Linda Sawyer and Chuck Porter have sought to make this year’s week more topical and inclusive by welcoming new faces such as Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg and National Basketball Association All-Star guard Steve Nash.

Still, critics continue to feel that “the problem is too much stuff” and that too many of the “usual suspects” participate in panel discussions. Also, some wonder if the industry needs a week of panel discussions, interviews and special events every year.

“Couldn’t we do it every other year?” asked one source. Said another: “I like the notion of getting together in one place” with a large group of industry peers. “But the massive nature of the event makes me shy away as well. It just feels so massive to me.”

Sawyer and Porter acknowledged such complaints in separate interviews with Adweek last week, and pointed to steps they’ve taken to improve the experience. Despite the criticism, attendance has grown each year since its inception, from 8,000 in 2004 to 28,000 last year. Organizers are expecting some 40,000 attendees this year.

“What we’re getting to be good at and what we’re going to be better at now, even after this one, is weighing what was interesting and what wasn’t interesting, so we can continue to hone” the experience, said Porter, co-chairman of MDC Partners’ Crispin Porter + Bogusky in Miami

Clutter concerns Porter, with some 100 sessions scheduled across five days. But the week is presented as a Chinese menu of something for everyone rather than a meal to be consumed from start to finish. As Sawyer, CEO of Interpublic Group’s Deutsch in New York, put it: “It’s not everything for everyone.”

Other highlights this year include Donny Deutsch interviewing Saturday Night Live executive producer Lorne Michaels; a “Can an Idea Change the World?” panel discussion featuring One Laptop Per Child founder Nicholas Negroponte; a two-and-a-half hour exploration of advertising in the digital age; and a CEO exchange featuring BBDO’s Andrew Robertson, Aegis’ Sarah Fay, GroupM’s Irwin Gotlieb and Nick Brien of IPG’s Mediabrands.

Those events will take place at The Times Center (CEOs, “Change the World,” Lorne Michaels) and the Paley Center for Media (digital age) — two of the three core venues this year. The other is the Nokia Theater in Times Square, where Billboard‘s Tamara Conniff will interview musician Jon Bon Jovi, and Huffington Post’s Arianna Huffington will lead a Yahoo!-sponsored discussion about consumer behavior.

Advertising Week also will highlight initiatives designed to generate interest in the industry and address the long-standing problem of lack of diversity. For example, the week has provided $150,000 as well as technical support and curriculum ideas toward the opening of the Brooklyn High School for Innovation in Advertising and Media, a proposal put forth in 2006 by Brooklyn Borough president Marty Markowitz that became a reality this fall.

And for Sawyer, such efforts best represent the true spirit of the week that Ken Kaess and Ron Berger launched in 2003. “It’s sort of a not-for-profit in the spirit of what it is,” Sawyer said. “But given that we have created revenue generation over the last few years that we’ve been able to channel as a give-back to the issues and the committed initiatives of this industry, if we can make a profit and do that, that’s great” too.