Talk of Change at Heart of Inaugural Venice Media Fest

Top Marketers and Agency Heads Wrestle With Uncertainty

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VENICE, Italy (AdAge.com) -- In sunny Italy today, two top marketers kicked off the inaugural Venice Festival of Media with passionate discussion about the changing nature of media and agency relationships.
Esther Lee, Coke's chief creative officer, wants media agencies to force the beverage giant 'to do things differently.'
Esther Lee, Coke's chief creative officer, wants media agencies to force the beverage giant 'to do things differently.'

Kimberly Kadlec, chief marketing officer, Johnson & Johnson, made a plea for convergence. "We live with a divide, but the reality is convergence," she said. "Consumers have no awareness of the divide and nor do they care. So why do we still chase the big idea in silos? Media and creative need to be closer."

C Squared Communications, the consultancy and publisher of international media industry magazine Cream, is behind the festival, which is being held at the Palazzo del Cinema on Venice Lido. The festival aims to be the media world's answer to the Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival while offering a global forum where advertisers could meet media owners or agencies.

Doing things differently
Attendees listened closely as Esther Lee, chief creative officer, Coca-Cola Co., gave out a checklist of seven things she wants from a media agency. No. 5: "Force us to do things differently. You need to create new things and to push us. We are stuck in our ways boy, oh boy."

Ms. Lee called the now much-talked about and oft-viewed consumer-created video "Extreme Diet Coke and Mentos Experiment" an example of Coke being stuck in its ways. "We had a risk-aversion response," she said. "Our initial reaction was 'Oh my God', we didn't go with the flow and give up the brand. But then we invited the guys in to do the experiment."

Expanding on the theme of user-generated content, Ms Lee said that it doesn't have to represent a choice between risk and control, and that marketers can find a way to do both. She used the Doritos Super Bowl commercial as a standout example of this principle.

"Amplification" was another of Ms Lee's themes. The old model is 360-degrees, which is just about replication. Amplification, she said, "means every place an idea goes it is amplified and gets bigger. It's about power, not about matching language."

She also spoke frankly about her company's challenges. "Our Achilles heel is the discussion about obesity. It's gone from a small, manageable U.S. issue to a huge global issue. It dilutes our marketing and works against it. It's a huge, huge issue."

The wrong focus at agencies
Of the media agency heads, Mainardo de Nardis, CEO of Aegis Media, was given the first spot in the session. "It's the first time being Italian has been an advantage in this business" he joked, but then quickly became serious. "Clients are not that happy with [media agencies'] current rate of progress. We are scared, and we focus on cost and not value." He stressed the need to maintain specialists in agencies in order to drive innovation for the future.

The Doritos Super Bowl story, used continually throughout the day as a reference point, allowed Daryl Simm, chairman-CEO of Omnicom Media Group, to bask in some glory. "[Doritos] has changed the perception of consumer-generated content forever," he said.

Steve King, worldwide CEO of ZenithOptimedia, discussed whether return on investment and creativity can ever sit together. "Very comfortably," was his reply. "One cannot be done without the other." His main message was that marketers need to "forget consumers and target customers" and do away with demographic models.

Last on stage was Dominic Proctor, CEO of MindShare Worldwide. He had been asked to speak on the subject of "Stop moaning about margins. Why agencies should make less," but he rejected the brief. "We can't make less profit. Of course we can't. We all work for people who won't accept less profit."

Mr. Proctor's 'frenemies'
Mr. Proctor perked up the audience with talk of "frenemies." "We compete with management consultants, specialists, auditors, procurement people, and media owners. We have to become ambidextrous and work with people who we compete with in other spheres," he said. "We are competing on so many fronts we need to be substantially good at everything we do."

Looking to the future, he said, "In the apparent contradiction between specialists vs. integration, the media agency sits at center stage. We are in the best position to be the integrator. It's a challenge and it will be just as easy to fail as to succeed."

The day finished with a contentious but good-humored presentation from Stephen Norman, global marketing director, Fiat. He said the automaker is spending 80% of its marketing budget on TV in 2007 -- the same percentage as in 1996. "And you tell me everything's changing?" he challenged.

"We have no idea what we're talking about," he continued. "We pay you to tell us. Fiat very nearly died three years ago, undoubtedly due to mismanagement on our part, but your people did nothing to change the course of events. At no time did you as the bosses of media empires come to our house to tell us things were going wrong."
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