How Much Bigger Can the ANA’s Growth Conference Get?

CEO Bob Liodice says he's near capacity

The Association of National Advertisers’ annual Masters of Marketing conference drew a record crowd of about 2,000 in Phoenix this month—a 5 percent increase from last year’s nearly 1,900. Not everyone was pleased with the size, however, some saying that it felt more like a political convention than a place to bond with peers. Bob Liodice, the ANA’s CEO since 2003, acknowledges the complaints but still sees advantages in putting on such a big show.

What percentage of attendees were members versus non-members?

It was a little under a thousand members. So, it was almost 50/50. To be more precise, I think it was 47 (percent members) to 53 (percent non-members).

Is that a healthy mix?

It’s phenomenal how consistent it has been over the years. I do think it’s a healthy mix.


We call these conferences industry conferences, and if you’re going to present to the industry, then you need appropriate representation. That’s why the mix includes agencies, media publishers, consultants, researchers, you name it. And the vendors themselves, obviously, because they’re sponsoring different booths and stuff.

Why are you drawing such a big crowd?

It’s the only place that I know of where you can listen for three days to CMOs who speak and tell their stories. They are our membership, and ANA is all about members helping and talking with members. In that regard, it’s so instructive for the best and the brightest—whether they’re big or they’re small—to be able to listen to those particular success stories and pick out those things that are most relevant for them. And I think it’s important for the industry to be able to hear them as well because we get our cues from what the senior marketers are saying.

Is the sky the limit?

[Laughs] It’s a very tough issue, and one we would struggle with.

Before you became CEO, the ANA had the opposite problem.

Yeah, back in 2002 we only had 270 people show up. But [the size issue] is a tough one. This year we were capacity-constrained, so we maxed it out.

What are the logistical headaches related to that?

Think about what we have to do. We have to have two massive rooms. One, where you have your conference—and unfortunately we were all theater-style. You [in the press] had a desk to work in; most people didn’t. Then, in the other room, you have to have some meal functions. Third, which we very displeased with—and we actually tried to get out of this contract but we couldn’t—is that you want to have everybody in the same hotel. I don’t like putting people offsite.

How will that work next year?

Next year, when we go back to Orlando, we can probably have some more. And we know that some people that attend are saying, “Well, it’s losing its intimacy.” Well, when you have 2,000 people, it’s not exactly intimate anyway. The question is, can you find the right people that you want to be with? And these days, with mobile devices, it’s not hard. There are enough opportunities to connect with certain people that you may want to connect with. And I bumped into lots of people just floating around anyway. So, I’m not exactly sure what is desired in terms of that. But yes, we are capacity constrained, and yeah, there will always be some natural limits. … And we’re not going to be able to fit much more in the future venues anyway. So, the level that you saw this year will be in the same range as what you're going to see in future years.

Some think you want to take it up to 3,000.

No. I think next year we would have the ability to handle 3,000 if we applied this year’s rules. In Orlando, we’re at Rosen Shingle Creek. I think we can handle up to 3,000. But do I want to go to 3,000? No.

Why not?

If you just strip away anything to do with sponsorship, we don’t really make a lot of money. Adding more people doesn’t necessarily bring a lot of additional revenue because it costs a fortune to feed that many people. So, there’s no financial rationale [for] having a lot more people there. We just want our members to be satisfied.

This year, Coca-Cola’s presentation in particular—the seamlessness between the words and visuals—really stood out.

When I got there I was chatting with our production executive producer and she was telling me, “Yeah, Joe Tripodi has got 39 videos.” And I almost freaked out. I said, “Thirty-nine videos? He has only got a half-hour. How can he show 39 videos?” And she said, “No, wait until you see this. It’s just this ongoing video behind him that’s just one giant loop almost.” And I said, “Oh, wow.” I couldn’t even imagine it. So, I was quite impressed with what he had to do.