Analysis & Opinion

Transformation 2011: What you may not have heard from the 4A’s Conference

March 15, 2011 Stephen Larkin

Change and talent: two big themes at the 4A’s (formerly known as the American Association of Advertising Agencies) annual conference last week.

4A’s President Nancy Hill opened the conference with a note of optimism: ”Our industry is back….Our industry didn’t die.  Some might have once said that we were on life support.  But we’re revived.  We’ve by-passed rehab and come out leaner, more creative and more productive than ever.”

There was the standard allotment of buzz-words at the conference, but here are some thoughts that inspired me:

  • Keith Weed, Global CMO of Unilever: “Don’t be a bystander, get involved…you won’t excel at anything just watching people, you have to get into the ring and have a fight.  There is a huge hunger for content and great content will travel.”
  • Fareed Zakaria, Editor at Large, Time:  “We’ve got to get back into the science and technology game…We’ve seen a serious decline in the technology skills of the American worker and if we don’t ramp up, the Silicon Valley companies will find they can’t make their product here.”

There was talk of how gaming companies are fighting for the living room; how 2011 will finally be the year of mobile because development, distribution and the devices (I call this D3) are finally here; and whether or not crowdsourcing is a tool or a tactic.

Ad holding co. CEOs discuss state of the industry

The most spirited and inspiring session was when three of the largest agency holding company chiefs came together to debate talent and collaboration with clients.  WPP CEO Martin Sorrell called it “criminal neglect” that we don’t recruit good people and until we do this, our business will be challenged.  Michael Roth, CEO of Mullen’s parent company IPG, talked about the importance of diversity in our business and how everything is structured around client needs.  Omnicom CEO John Wren said that clients need to give their agencies the “Permission to fail.” I loved this, as he’s 110% correct.

None of us strive to or want to fail, but because our business is changing so fast, it’s paramount that we as creators and inventors experiment and try new and different things.  If clients give us that ability to fall down once in a while without repercussions, I believe we’ll see more innovation and inspiring work (and we’ll make you famous).  What’s great is that with the fluidity of the digital age, we can do things more efficiently and invent new things.  It’s one thing to develop a $1,000,000 traditional campaign vs. $50,000 or $100,000 program or platform that lives digitally.  So, to all of you Fortune 500 CMO’s, it’s ok to fall down everyone once in a while.  I’ve been telling my kids for years that “Complacency is a four letter word.”

If you fail every now and then and don’t become complacent, I promise you’ll win in the long run.