Low Attendance, Frugal Schedule, Non-Resort Venue

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NEW ORLEANS ( -- Advertising industry executives gathering here for the 85th annual American
Photo: Doug Goodman
4A's Chairman Ken Kaess spoke of a 'turbulent time for our world, our economy and our industry.'
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Association of Advertising Agencies management conference were greeted by members of the organization's board of directors with a determined let's-grit-our-teeth-and-persevere attitude, softened occasionally by a joke or two.

Not 'highly paid'
At the welcoming reception and dinner, 4A's Vice Chairman Ron Berger, who is also chairman and chief creative of Euro RSCG MVBMS Partners, deadpanned, "While last year we had a highly paid entertainer to announce the [O'Toole Award] winners, this year you have me." His audience responded with an appreciative laugh: After the financial challenges of 2002, ad agency executives understood the difficulty of having to cut perks and operate frugally.

This year's conference is an example of the current belt-tightening mentality: 250 members attended this year's conference, down significantly from last year's 300. And for the first time in the event's long history, the conference was held not at a resort hotel but in an urban area. Attendees are following a tightly scheduled program with less time available for leisure activities such as golf and tennis.

'One of the worst'
"It is no secret that the last couple of years haven't been the best in our industry's illustrative history. In fact, in many respects one could say it's been one of the worst periods ever ... and we've been through tough times before," said 4A's president-CEO O. Burtch Drake at his annual address to members.

But 4A's leadership didn't dwell on the current difficulties for long. Ken Kaess, the group's chairman of the board and president-CEO of Omnicom Group's DDB Worldwide, said that "the past 12 months have been a turbulent time for our world, our economy and our industry," but "I think it's neither very healthy nor particularly helpful to dwell on our losses."

Licking our wounds, Mr. Kaess said, won't get us anywhere, but "taking some clear-eyed initiative will."

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