The industry has been criticized for being slow to understand the impact of digital technologies. And agencies are increasingly being pressured by consolidation among clients and rivals. But the outgoing chairman of the Four A's expects the meeting to be upbeat.
"Business is great, and everyone is intellectually engaged," said Shelly Lazarus, whose day job is chairman-CEO of Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide. She credited the industry's "enormous momentum" to the explosion in dot-com spending.
Ms. Lazarus said agencies need to redefine their role, but she believes they are well-positioned to do that.
Agencies are "rethinking the way we go to market," she said, adding that the fundamentals still apply: "Ideas have always been important. Brand is always critical. Conceptualization has always driven marketing propositions."
Ms. Lazarus said agencies have largely protected themselves from a dot-com bubble burst. Smart shops, she said, realize that while some dot-com entrepreneurs are "brilliant salespeople," their business models may not be viable.
In an attempt to reverse declining attendance and boost the relevance of the management meeting, the Four A's this year has cut the gathering by one day and focused tightly on two topics: interactivity and creativity.
The questions the trade association is facing, Ms. Lazarus said, are: "Has the Four A's kept up as an organization, and is it still serving the needs of the entire industry?"
Tim Smith, CEO, Red Sky Interactive, San Francisco, who will speak at the conference, said his advice to traditional agencies would be to remain flexible for clients. While an integrated marketing strategy may be best for some clients, a best-of-breed approach, with the involvement of more than one agency, may be more appropriate for others, he said.
"Our perspective has been: What's best for the client is best," he said, adding, "We're in a medium where it's going to change every six months. What we're doing now, [traditional] agencies will be doing in six months to two years."
Phil Dusenberry, chairman of BBDO, New York, will become the next Four A's chairman.
Contributing: Jennifer Gilbert, Mercedes M. Cardona.