Bermuda-bound 4A's cuts schedule

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In a move to lure time-starved agency executives to its annual meeting, the American Association of Advertising Agencies has shortened its program schedule, selected an exotic location and revamped the conference content.

This year's Four A's management conference held in Bermuda (May 11-13) shaves a day from previous conferences, which ran an average 31/2 days.

The trade association took a cue from its successful media conference, which lasts only 21/2 days, in modeling this year's annual meeting, according to Four A's President-CEO O. Burtch Drake.

"We thought we'd try the media conference model," he said, adding that the reduced schedule seems to better serve increasingly busy agency executives.

"We keep hearing that people can't be out of the office for a long period of time," Mr. Drake said.

In the 1970s and early '80s, Four A's annual meeting attendance hovered around the 800-person level, but that number has dropped by nearly half in recent years as executives find themselves in time crunches. The number of attendees also dropped off after the recession of the late '80s. The proliferation of other trade meetings, including the Four A's own media conference and those of other associations takes up even more of the travel time of hurried executives.

IDEA DROPPED

In response to declining attendance, Mr. Drake two years ago suggested that the Four A's and the Association of National Advertisers combine their annual meetings. That idea spawned much controversy before it was dropped.

However, a joint Four A's/ANA meeting in the near future still is possible, Mr. Drake said. Four A's executives currently are in discussions with ANA executives about a combined meeting; that conference wouldn't replace either group's annual meeting, Mr. Drake said. Ironically, that would add to the already hectic conference schedule of the groups' executive members.

The Four A's also rejiggered the focus of this year's annual meeting to hone in on creativity and the Internet, rather than addressing a multitude of issues. A full day will be devoted to each topic, with May 11 focused on advertising creativity and May 12 geared to digital communications and e-commerce.

"We really are now forming our content to the interests of our member CEOs," Mr. Drake said. "Before it was just a general advertising conference."

Mr. Drake admited to a personal interest in moving the meeting to Bermuda. When he was president of FCB/Leber Katz Partners, New York, he ran the Bermuda tourism account. If all goes well, he hopes to schedule other non-U.S. venues for the annual meeting. The tentative plan is "every five years or so to go outside the country," he said.

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