The Best Of Times

This week’s 4A’s Media Conference in New Orleans will be a celebration of contact and media professionals of all shapes and sizes from around the U.S. We are going to prove that people from all walks of the industry, with multiple vantage points from various disciplines, can come together and make progress by putting the consumer at the top of the agenda.

There’s a lot of buzz about this conference. Maybe because attendance figures have already set records, with more than 1,200 people pre-registered and a promise of more at the door. The lineup of speakers, presenters and panelists features a robust blend of media people, clients, creatives, content owners and more. We are planning a discourse with a bias toward collective action.

Curiously, some people are predicting disputes as opposed to discourse. It’s been suggested that the dialogue between media and creative still isn’t working. There are debates about who owns the planning process and who should own it. Believe it or not, there is still a battle being waged about agency structure, with the bundled and unbundled proponents arguing like they are starring in an old Lite Beer from Miller commercial, “Tastes great. Less filling.”

Make no mistake, there are some serious, unresolved issues in our industry. As we bring the various constituencies together in New Orleans this week, those issues need to be addressed. But we have to approach the dialogue with a desire to make progress. We have to stop fighting old wars and start winning new victories.

A lot of people look for the “seam” in any situation. They want to focus on where something doesn’t hang together and pick at loose threads until the garment falls apart. I’d rather spend my time building bridges, and the 4A’s Media Conference is designed to facilitate that.

If media and creative people need to find a more constructive way to talk to each other, we are going to find one. If a new role called “agency liaison” or “peacemaker” or “interpreter” needs to be developed, we’ll write a collective job description. If there are lessons to be learned from our success and/or failure during new-business pitches, we will mine them. And we will do it with our clients’ best interests in mind, and our need to make meaningful connections to consumers at heart.

This week’s conference features several panels and speakers that promise to be provocative. Creatives will be there from Leo Burnett, BBH, Crispin Porter + Bogusky and VCU Adcenter, providing lively and meaningful discourse about where the creative product and the contact architecture can and should intersect.

The digital, new and emerging media gurus will be out in force. They will remind us that we live in what my colleague Rishad Tobaccowala calls the “era of visual engagement,” and that the TV screen of the future is not going to be the box that sits in our family rooms. Screens are going to proliferate, and they are going to put the 30-second commercial on notice: change or risk the loss of engagement.

Media owners of all shapes and sizes will participate. They are going to bring some unique ideas to the discussion. They will want to swap consumer insights and debate new content formats, so that together we can shape strategic approaches that connect clients to consumers while delivering measurable returns on objectives.

The entertainment and branded content people will have a clear voice. They will admonish us to pursue meaningful content that resonates with the most important consumers. They will chastise any marketer who has dropped a product into the wrong program for the sheer sake of exposure, and they will tell us once again that exposure and engagement live far apart.

Content experts representing TV, magazines, radio, broadband, wireless, events, sponsorships and more will share their visions, ideas, concerns.

Most important, our clients will be there. Marketers like Kellogg’s, Sprint, Kraft, Nintendo and Toyota will join the discussion. They are coming because they are keenly interested in the future of media. The dynamic contact world we work in is their world too, and like us they are trying to navigate a rich and fragmented path to the hearts and minds of consumers.

I encourage anyone at the conference who is concerned about partnership, progress, conflict and collaboration to fill out your “card from the floor” and pose questions that aren’t being addressed. Ask until you get an answer, because we have to get this battle behind us, now.

The world is hurtling toward a status of absolute consumer control, and the gadget gurus are arming people with the increasingly powerful tools of message management every day. New Orleans is the right place and time for actionable conversation that keeps the consumer at the center. I wouldn’t miss it for the world.