Ad groups call 'sitdown' to tighten ties

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Leading ad trade associations, confronting the same economic pressures as their members and responding to industry consolidation, have quietly explored ways to work together that could include combining some operations and programs, and eliminating redundant initiatives.

Executives at the groups-which include the Association of National Advertisers, American Association of Advertising Agencies, American Advertising Federation and the Ad Council-confirmed their discussions, which they have dubbed "Project Sitdown."

Their talks will lead to a handful of changes in the short term, but executives involved said the reviews of cost structures and ways to achieve efficiency will continue.

"It started a process that was really exciting, a way to serve the industry more efficiently," said David Bell, vice chairman of Interpublic Group of Cos. and chairman of the Ad Council, who oversaw the reviews.

"It's an incredible tribute to the associations and not-for-profits for them to say that there are ways we should be connecting to raise the bar, and there are things we are duplicating," said Mr. Bell.

In one immediate change, the ANA, 4A's and AAF will combine their annual Washington government affairs conferences. They are also likely to bring together their minority outreach programs. The AAF will also work more closely with the International Advertising Association on internships and awards programs.

The associations are exploring whether cost savings could be achieved by jointly negotiating airline rates and other shared costs, or by letting one of the associations-or even an ad agency-handle payroll functions for the various groups.

The review began last April with a meeting between association chiefs and agency holding company representatives during the 4A's management conference in Laguna Niguel, Calif. Besides Mr. Bell, participants included Roy Bostock, then with Bcom3 and recently named chairman of the Partnership for a Drug-Free America; Tom Carey, exec VP at Omnicom Group; Edward Wax of Publicis Groupe; and Ed Ney, chairman emeritus of Young & Rubicam, who represented parent WPP Group.

O. Burtch Drake, 4A's president-CEO, said the group reviewed the role of the major industry ad associations as well as some of the smaller ones. Media associations were not included.

"We were looking at creaming out some costs," he said. "It became clear that part of the process was to clarify where each association was going, and where they could work jointly on projects."

Executives at the AAF and International Advertising Association said last week that while they have distinct missions, there is enough crossover that it makes sense for them to work together on some projects.

"The world is not as compartmentalized as it used to be," said IAA Director General Wally O'Brien. "Why not bring programs together where we can see opportunities?"

`Tactical alliances'

AAF President-CEO Wallace Snyder said the two groups will engage in some "tactical alliances" with the AAF's Addy Awards going global, and combine internship programs to offer students opportunities around the world. The associations' executives said several other groups might also work together, among them the Advertising Educational Foundation and the Advertising Research Foundation.

ANA President-CEO John J. Sarsen Jr. said it makes sense for the groups to combine multicultural marketing programs and other initiatives where "we do things along similar lines."

Mr. Bell said that the groups, which have met twice more since the initial meeting, would continue to look for ways to work together.

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