Reporter's Notebook

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[New Orleans] Even with a high profile speaker like Viacom Chief Operating Officer Mel Karmazin, the 4A's did little to attract agency world bigs. Though the association would argue that spin-off conferences have diluted the main event, the no shows-who included Interpublic's Donny Deutsch and John Dooner, WPP's Shelley Lazarus and Publicis' Susan Giannino-were still conspicuous by their absence. Meanwhile Omnicom sent the full monty: DDB's Ken Kaess, BBDO's Andrew Robertson and TBWA's Tom Carroll.

The three-day management conference was light on traffic but heavy on proselytizing and like a shot of absinthe-a popular New Orleans tipple-some liked it, others spat it out.

Bob Schmetterer, who delivered a motivational speech that would not have been out of place on a PBS drive night, underscored the need to work with Hollywood. But as with everything, the ad industry is split on that idea. Who needs the talent agencies and the movie moguls the naysayers ask? Away from the podium, Schmetterer was candid about industry's conservative nature. "I go and talk at companies where everyone is using the Internet. I don't see us leading that." While the Web-savvy movie and video game businesses continue to boom, ad agencies seem to be stuck in the past chewing their pencils.

Bill Lamar Jr., senior VP-marketing, McDonald's Corp., drove another nail in the coffin of the 30-second commercial when he said the fast-food giant would be doing less TV and shifting more of its advertising into digital media. "The days of spending hundreds of millions of dollars on TV advertising is over. Reaching consumers is no longer TV driven."

"We must have insight-driven ideas that connect us to individual consumers at the right time and in a place where that customer is most receptive to our message," he said. "For McDonald's, that means less TV advertising is in our future." He also underscored the marketer's focus on digital marketing, citing its deal with online game The Sims.

Receiving lifetime achievement awards here were BBDO's Phil Dusenberry, DDB's Keith Reinhard and Publicis & Hal Riney's Hal Riney, who despite being 71, said he's still eager to reinvent himself. "I am able to imagine myself starting a business as long as I am able. This is a creative business and it always pisses me off that there are so many people who talk about emphasizing creativity." Should Riney take the leap-and he says it's a "strong possibility"- he could be ready to do business by mid-next year once his Publicis Groupe contract is up.

An AdMedia Partners survey, conducted in December 2002 and distributed under hotel doors, reveals a real thirst for some kind of activity: 76% of prospective agency buyers expect to complete an acquisition in 2003 while 27% of prospective sellers expect to sell all or part of their firms this year.

So when's that recession going to end? If you ask Yankelovich President J. Walker Smith, it won't be any time soon-consumers are in saving, not spending mode. Respondents to AdMedia's study suggest third quarter 2003. Or you could always wander down Bourbon Street to see what the fortune tellers have to say.

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