Linda Sawyer and Chuck Porter, CEO of Deutsch and Crispin Porter & Bogusky, respectively, took the reins this year from the event's founder, Euro RSCG Chairman Ron Berger, as co-chairs of Advertising Week. Nancy Hill, the president-CEO of the 4A's, was also among those tapped to help shape up the program. Together they framed a schedule that still involved a lot of ad execs talking to ad execs, but also gave time to causes such as a global climate-change effort that put senior industry execs at the same table as the United Nations' secretary-general.
The Advertising Week leaders and board had obviously also worked hard to reduce the confusion and slogging around the city that characterized previous years by trimming the number of venues. (There were still 20 or so different venues in total, but the majority of panels and speeches took place in just three Midtown locations.) They also tried to dial up the star power with appearances from the likes of Jon Bon Jovi, Jimmy Fallon, Lorne Michaels, Susie Essman, Big Boi and Jimmy Wales. But senior marketing execs who control budgets were still in short supply.
"Advertising Week this year was better than last year, and hopefully next year will be better than this year," said Brad Jakeman, who has led advertising for top marketers such as Citigroup and Macy's. "I am still not seeing enough of the real industry thought leaders attending. I think there is a great opportunity to evolve the program and content so it is as impressive and inspiring as conferences such as TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design). There's a great opportunity for Advertising Week to be more than just 'networking.' It should provide a forum for controversial content that inspires real debate and dialogue. Out of passionate debate most often comes game-changing ideas."
Even with those limitations, the program obviously appealed to many. Pre-registration jumped to 56,000 attendees from 40,000 in 2007, said organizers, and more than 60,000 people flocked to New York for the event in total -- a number that must have tested hotel and taxi capacity, given the United Nations' General Assembly also took place in the city last week.
Advertising Week, a not-for-profit organization, raised a total of $2.5 million in cash this year and secured roughly the same amount in "barter" -- partnering with marketers to host events or media to promote the week, said Matt Scheckner, executive director of Advertising Week.
Advertising Week 2008 did a good job of focusing on social issues, including climate change. The week kicked off with a high-level gathering at the United Nations' New York headquarters, organized by Michael Lee of the International Advertising Association, and featuring UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the heads of most of the holding companies and a number of the countries' largest agencies. Mr. Ban asked the assembled ad-world luminaries to help him raise awareness of the global climate crisis among consumers and help build political consensus in advance of the UN's 2009 efforts to come up with a treaty that will replace the Kyoto Protocol. In an unusual move for usually fierce competitors, the assembled execs from Omnicom, Publicis, Interpublic and MDC all pledged their support for the effort and promised that by Advertising Week 2009 they'll have created a sizable, global, measurable campaign to meet Mr. Ban's goals.
Nor was that the only effort to show that the sometimes-maligned ad industry can be a force for good. The U.S. Fund for UNICEF was honored for its work with marketers, such as the Tap Project, the campaign to provide children with clean drinking water conceived by New York ad agency Droga 5. (The campaign will expand worldwide in 2009.) And as promised, organizers delivered on the Advertising School they proposed last year -- no small point considering one of the stated missions of the event is to inspire young folks to pursue careers in the business.
Even a hearing on ad agency minority-hiring practices (by no coincidence planned by City Council officials in the middle of the week) wasn't a damper on the events. New York City Councilman and Civil Rights Committee Chairman Larry B. Seabrook congratulated agencies that have made strides in improving diversity in the executive ranks, while Patricia Gatling, head of the New York City Human Rights Commission, said she's "cautiously optimistic" that shops will continue to work harder to meet their stated minority-hiring goals. Of the 16 agencies that signed a diversity pact with the commission, 11 either met or exceeded those goals in 2007.
As to the myriad panels and speeches, content was freshened to focus on topics such as mobile marketing and social media, with increased involvement from digital and interactive agencies -- though there was no shortage of ad agency heavyweights, such as Shelly Lazarus and Andrew Robertson.
Some sessions brimmed with crowds upward of 500 -- at times standing-room only -- while evening events were packed with swarms of shoulder-to-shoulder executives, such as the industry opening gala at the Rockefeller Center skating rink.
Ad Age reporters quizzed attendees at many of the events, and while some senior execs shared Mr. Jakeman's desire for more challenging and diverse subject matter, many junior execs found the events highly educational. "I'm new to advertising, so I'm trying to learn as much as possible," said Rebecca Farley, an associate at Ogilvy. She finds the event commendable because it brings "everybody that's involved in advertising up to date and also shares some success stories." Given that one of Advertising Week's original goals was to get young people interested in advertising, Mr. Berger can consider the event a job well done.
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Contributing: Abbey Klaassen, Michael Bush, Natalie Zmuda, Max Lakin