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If the aim of Advertising Week was to restore a sense of confidence in a business battered by recession, the industry's largest ever attempt to fete itself was a triumph. But when it came to proving advertising's value to the clients it serves, the event's impact was murkier.

Almost all of the 90 events, which included parties, keynote speeches, panels, a film festival and the parade of icons, were spread all over New York, and went off without a major hitch-something of a logistical miracle. Toward the end of the week, the American Association of Advertising Agencies officials behind the event declared themselves well pleased. "It exceeded our expectations," said Ken Kaess, Advertising Week chairman and DDB Worldwide president-CEO.

The event certainly generated lots of publicity, much of it for the icons (who vied for the public's favor in an online poll, rang the Nasdaq opening bell and paraded through Times Square). But some executives questioned whether the event would demonstrate to the business world that ad agencies can overcome the growing challenges they face: improving ROI measures, proving their strategic value and countering technologies that have handed consumers control of their media environments.

some complaints

There were a number of well-attended panels that confronted these issues (see stories, P. 24, 26). Nevertheless, with many other events featuring industry executives unabashedly promoting their particular medium or company, some executives felt the event was too congratulatory. "Do all the self-serving celebrations going on demonstrate to clients the real value of what we do?" asked one industry executive.

Although they were a hit with the public, the icons became the whipping boys for some of the critics, either because they reflected the advertising past, not advertising future, or because, as one executive put it, "they occupied the spotlight" and did not allow agencies' to show their creative capability. Ronald McDonald, the Aflac Duck and the two dozen other advertising characters were the centerpiece of the consumer outreach.

Mr. Kaess had heard the complaints well before the event and responded often. "For the public, that's the best way to connect with things we have done," he said.

Indeed, to no one's surprise, the icon contest was by far the biggest hit with many onlookers-and the juiciest item for the mainstream reporters who wrote about the Week, according to an analysis by the Washington, D.C.-based media research firm Carma International.

Despite the media attention, one PR expert questioned it as a strategy for an industry that has in recent years weathered not only a recession but technological shifts and evolution in marketers' attitudes that are forcing dramatic changes. "It's nice to emotionally reconnect, but I don't think you should hark back to the good old days," said Richard Edelman, president-CEO of PR firm Edelman.

Relevant successes

There were, however, several panels and discussions on pertinent issues such as online advertising and convergence. And the organizers were very successful at hitting another PR target: the importance of advertising to the overall economy. According to Carma, which was commissioned by Advertising Age, this was the most frequently picked up message in the media coverage, largely because of an impact study showing the far-ranging economic effects of advertising released by the Advertising Tax Coalition during the week (see P. 24). There was also media recognition for the fact that Advertising Week itself generated $55 million for New York, according to the New York City Economic Development Corporation.

As they begin to plan for the second Advertising Week in New York, the organizers will be faced with the challenge of finding fresh content, speakers, and activities so that interest remains stoked. Four A's officials have said that they want the event to be to the industry what the Seventh on Sixth is to the fashion industry or what the Tribeca Film Festival is to the local movie industry. Those institutions, however, are founded more on new content than on discussions of what either industry is about.

In an interview, Mr. Kaess said he was confident that this wouldn't be a problem. "There are enough things going on in our business with everything that's changing and how rapidly it's evolving, we'll always have interesting content," he said.

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