ANA SPEECHES DULL OR OFF THE SUBJECT

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More and more of the conventions I attend are booking speakers who have less and less to do with the purported subject of the convention.

And then the trade associations complain because attendance among members keeps declining. They make their money off the non-members, mostly suppliers, who pay an added tariff to mingle with the members.

Take the Association of National Advertisers annual conference as an especially egregious example. We heard from Maureen Dowd of The New York Times; CNN's "McLaughlin Group" (for members only; more on that later); "Crossfire's" Michael Kinsley and Lou Dobbs; and Sam Donaldson of ABC-TV.

In between we heard some good presentations from John Costello on the turnaround at Sears and Herb Baum on reinventing Quaker State motor oil. Other sessions that were on the general subject of marketing and communications played tired old tunes, such as the client-agency relationship, the creative process and violence on television.

Only 22% of 500 attendees were members-and that's up from last year. The conference has been shortened by a day so ad managers' bosses don't think they're on an endless boondoggle.

So ANA management, in their wisdom, decided to have a day just for members, and they scheduled the aforementioned client-agency panel as a value-added event. But it turned out, as one observer told this family newspaper, to be "the same old stuff. Agencies said they don't get paid enough, and the clients say, `Get used to it."'

Apparently the liveliest part of the day came at the end of the "McLaughlin Group" panel. The conversation, as you'd imagine, got around to the O.J. Simpson trial, and the all-white journalists decried the jury's decision to acquit O.J. based on race. A black woman from the audience got up to say she resented their opinion that the jury couldn't come to a verdict based on the evidence. The panel tried its mightiest to dissuade the woman of her opinion, but by all accounts she held her ground and maybe gained a little.

Cocktails and dinner that night, featuring Ted Turner as speaker, also excluded non-members of ANA-including the ad agency panelists from the afternoon. The head of another ad trade association also was told the dinner was off limits.

The Wall Street Journal's advertising columnist Kevin Goldman decided to skip the meeting because he and other reporters weren't allowed to cover the members-only session. He told us that it was strictly a business decision-the client-agency panel and the Turner dinner were the only things on the agenda that interested Journal readers.

So what happened was that the ad managers' bosses, most of whom are loyal readers of the Journal, saw nary a word of the ANA conference in the paper. If it's not important enough to get ink in the Journal, why should they let their subordinates attend next year?

Anyway, they could stay home and watch the same thing on CNN.

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