From the 4A's Leadership Conference

New 4A's Leadership Provides Healthy Dose of Boosterism

Chairman Tom Carroll Wants an End to Divisiveness and Ad Industry In-fighting

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LAGUNA NIGUEL, Calif. (AdAge.com) -- Ad agency chiefs used to hearing doomsday forecasts for their business model heard very different calls from two industry leaders at the American Association of Advertising Agencies' 2008 Leadership Conference here.
Tom Carroll
Photo: Art Beaulieu

Tom Carroll at the Association of Advertising Agencies' 2008 Leadership Conference.

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After an official passing of the baton by outgoing 4A's Chairman Tony Hopp, incoming chairman and TBWA/Chiat/Day President-CEO Tom Carroll opened the event in his signature candid style, speaking out against persistent criticism by industry publications -- including this one -- of the good work agencies are doing in an environment that's rapidly changing because of digital technology.

'Stop listening to critics'
All industries need to calibrate themselves, Mr. Carroll noted, and the ad industry, in the midst of making difficult changes, isn't doing a half-bad job of it. "We need to stop listening to the critics ... we know what we're doing with technology."

He went on to urge agency executives to once and for all use stop using language that divides creative and digital disciplines: "It's all digital ... everything we do is digital ... it's one thing." Mr. Carroll earned some laughs when he compared the notion of digital talent staging an attack on the industry to President Bush's depiction of Al Qaeda.

The 4A's leadership conference -- which in past years was dubbed a "management conference" -- has in prior years gotten its share of criticism "some of it deserved, some of its just piling on," Mr. Carroll said. As a result, the group this year revamped the agenda by shortening sessions and mixing presentations with respected luminaries, such as TBWA/Chiat/Day's Lee Clow and Tribal DDB's Matt Freeman, with speakers from outside the industry, such as Google's Eric Schmidt.

Still, he placed the burden on attendees to provide constructive feedback to evolve the confab and make it more relevant going forward.

Addressing agency concerns
Meanwhile, Nancy Hill, who in February took over as president-CEO of the group, succeeding O. Burtch Drake, went down a more inspirational route, squarely placed diversity and technology at the top of the organization's agenda. Not necessarily new issues, Ms. Hill noted, but nevertheless the ones repeatedly cited as top concerns she hears from agency leaders around the country.

To boost the numbers of ethnic and racially diverse employees in agency ranks, the 4A's before the close of its conference will announce a "major new initiative that will specifically address the dearth of African-American executives," Ms. Hill said.

She further vowed to make it a priority to transform the nearly century-old organization into the "digitally savvy association of the future," via a new website that launches today, and the rollout of a new digital platform and suite of online tools over the next year to allow members to better network and engage in a global conversation about advertising.

"Our perspective must be broader and more global in scope," she said. "Our counterparts from around the world need and want to interact with us."

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