Now, New and Improved! Advertising Week '06

Organizers Won't Scrub Mr. Clean, but Promise More Focus, Substance

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The jolly green giant is down but he's not out.

As part of a revamped agenda, the organizers of this year's Advertising Week have shunted the divisive ad icons off center stage, moving the whole lot from the kickoff event to the final day of the ad industry's weeklong fete. The icons, it should be noted, are suffering the indignity with grace and about 100 are expected to pile into Jeep Wranglers in the procession from DDB's Madison Avenue headquarters to Times Square.

The schedule, released today, is a response to criticism from industry observers, Advertising Age chief among them, that the week's first two incarnations featured agency folks speaking to themselves, not to mention a bloated agenda that unfolded in too many venues and had too many scheduling conflicts. The watchword this year is "streamlined": fewer sponsors (paying more money), fewer venues and, the organizers hope, fewer scheduling conflicts.

"We've listened," said Matt Scheckner, executive director of Advertising Week, in an interview. "It's not smaller, but it is streamlined."

Besides overcoming its past failings, Advertising Week 2006, which runs from Sept. 25-29, will have plenty of other challenges, namely the hearings called by the New York City Commission on Human Rights. Many industry executives are hopeful for a deal to delay the hearings to a time that would be less embarrassing for the ad business. Diverting a public spotlight on the vast whiteness of advertising away from the industry's third annual PR blowout would be a relief to a business long nagged by claims that it's not diverse enough.

In a clever publicity gambit of its own, the commission has subpoenaed a number of senior agency executives to testify that week in hearings on the lack of diversity in the business. But insiders say the economic might of Advertising Week, which last year packed a $200 million wallop in the form of hotel rooms, meals and transportation, might ultimately give the city some pause about disrupting the ad business's self-celebration.

A commission spokesman denied any changes. "[The hearings] are not postponed," she said. "We're proceeding as if we're having them, though we are still in discussions with the agencies."

If the hearings do go on, the week's organizers hope that the star power they've recruited will muffle any nasty PR. In the opening event, Mr. Clean will be replaced by real(ish) icon, Martha Stewart, who will host a Monday breakfast. The slate of panels, keynotes and performances that follow will be dominated by a list of nonindustry figures: Harvey Weinstein will be interviewed by Charlie Rose; anti-poverty crusader and Bono cohort Jeffrey Sachs and NBA Commissioner David Stern will also make appearances.

And, of course, a bevy of ad notables will be on hand. Omnicom Group President-CEO John Wren will take center stage Monday as he's interviewed by a yet-to-be-announced personality. And there will be a stand-up comedy competition featuring Chuck Porter, Andy Berlin, Ernest Lupinacci and Jon Bond, among others.

The AdCouncil and the theme of advertising's social impact will also play a prominent role, and the Advertising Futures program will be expanded to include 40 high-school classes teaming with agencies to create campaigns.

The organizers expect attendance to increase by about half, to 60,000, thanks in part to large delegations of foreign attendees coming from places such as China, Vietnam and South Africa.
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