AAF's Snyder Has a Few Thoughts for His Successor

Ad Group's Retiring CEO Talks Diversity, Fragmentation and Ethics

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- The American Advertising Federation's president-CEO, Wally Snyder, came to the Washington-based trade group in the fall of 1985 after a career as a trial attorney and adviser to the Federal Trade Commission on advertising issues. In 1990, he was promoted from senior VP-government relations to executive VP-government, and took on the role of president-CEO two years later.
Wally Snyder
Wally Snyder Credit: AAF

After a tremendous 15-year run at the helm of the AAF, during which time Mr. Snyder spearheaded numerous diversity- and ethics-related industry initiatives and testified before state and federal lawmakers on key industry issues and helped grow the organization's membership to 50,000, he's getting ready to pass the torch.

Ad Age: Do you plan to remain active and involved in the industry?

Wally Snyder: Yes. It's a great industry. I really want to stay involved in advertising, particularly public-policy issues surrounding advertising. The one I will really focus on is advertising ethics -- I've written in the area, and I want to continue to lecture in this area.

Ad Age: Over the course of your time at the AAF, what is your proudest achievement?

Mr. Snyder: The one thing I am most proud of is what we've accomplished in multicultural marketing and diversity. We started about 15 years ago when I think there wasn't a real appreciation of the benefits of reaching different cultures in advertising. We have three programs that I think really stand out. The Most Promising Minority Students program, where we have brought talented students of color to the industry; over the last 12 years we've been doing the program, 70% of them are still in the business and making a contribution. Also, our Mosaic Awards have really recognized the companies and individuals that have contributed successfully in this area of multicultural marketing, so that's a real accomplishment. And we put together a task force of leading clients like Procter & Gamble and Johnson & Johnson. ... [T]ogether over the years they came up with the multicultural guidelines for advertising.

Ad Age: How would you estimate the pace of progress when it comes to minority representation in the industry?

Mr. Snyder: The progress can be measured in the fact that first, clients understood the importance of multicultural advertising, but have moved beyond that to know how to effectively do that. The other progress is that in order to do it effectively, we've all learned that we to surround ourselves with diversity, and I think there is a real effort now to hire minority professionals. Having said all that, I think we have a long way to go.

Ad Age: Going forward, what do you see as being the biggest challenge to this industry?

Mr. Snyder: This industry has changed more in the past two years than the previous 15, and is changing rapidly. All of the new digital opportunities to reach consumers are really important, and the first thing we have to continue to work on is building principles and plans that give clients opportunities to use all of these different [mediums]. The opportunity to connect the American advertising industry and our players with the global industry is a big challenge. We are going to be aided in that by our online capabilities. It's ironic that as the world is getting smaller because of digital communication, we are becoming more fragmented as an industry. There is a need for the AAF to continually connect all of the facets of the business.

Ad Age: There are so many associations now, to some degree isn't that fragmenting for the industry?

Mr. Snyder: Over my career, I've seen people only belonging to those associations where they get bottom-line benefits. The AAF pulls everybody together. I have never sold against the other associations, because we are all needed, but the special duty AAF has is to pull all the players together at one table. The only way to solve industrywide issues is to bring everyone together. AAF has proven itself by taking on the really tough issues. The AAF's role is to make sure that everybody is participating in the decision making.

Ad Age: What advice would you give to your successor?

Mr. Snyder: The principal advice is it's very important to be open and positive ... and certainly to look to all of the opportunities we have to connect our members. I want my successor to be really knowledge-based in the advertising profession and in public policy, and certainly very energetic. I, along with the leadership of the AAF, are calling on people to apply. We've had a lot of people express interest and have applications already. We're going to have a lot of great candidates.
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