Last year in this space we censured the Association of National Advertisers for allowing some sponsors of its annual conference to program the agenda of that meeting. Unfortunately, the association is doing it again.
At the 1997 meeting, three broadcast TV networks paid $100,000 apiece to sponsor a day's sessions. They got to promote their programming and provide on-air talent to interview panelists. Each network president also got to talk about his network's branding efforts.
There were two complaints heard about the meeting. The first was that having sponsors deliver paid messages to paying attendees was as valuable as subscribing to a premium cable channel that telecast nothing but infomercials. The second complaint was that the agenda was too TV-focused and didn't provide a forum for other media.
ANA sharply disputed Advertising Age's position that the meeting was too commercial. ANA President John Sarsen called the conference "our most successful ever" and asked, "What's to criticize?" The association apparently agreed with the second point, however, and this year opened its doors to other media sponsors. Already, cable network ESPN and publishers Hearst Magazines, Time Inc. and Reader's Digest Association have signed on.
What a sorry solution. Hearst Magazines President Cathleen Black wrote a letter to Ad Age last year in which she criticized ANA and said attendees of the meeting "were subject to highly commercial messages from the broadcasting industry." So this year, instead of blatant sales pitches from broadcast networks, attendees will pay to sit through blatant sales pitches from print and cable executives.
How it programs its meeting is ANA's decision to make, and ANA says its members know exactly what "sponsorship" means. But we continue to believe strongly that it's a mistake to have sponsors set the agenda for this, or any other, industry group's annual meeting. If ANA indeed believes these media companies have strong branding stories to tell, it should line up representatives from each of the major media platforms and have them appear on a panel together. At no cost.
Let the media companies sponsor coffee breaks, dinners, evening entertainment; let them put free newspapers under hotel-room doors or set up booths in an exhibit room. Don't let them set the agenda. That doesn't serve the needs of its members or sponsors, but it does dilute the content and value of the meeting.M
PARITY FOR BET
Black entertainment television's bid for steep CPM increases in cable TV's upfront buying season (25% on average, said a BET executive; 80% to 120% higher in some circumstances, said an agency executive) ultimately should be a marketplace issue. It's aim is more pricing parity with the CPMs advertisers pay for similar programming on general-market TV outlets. But race, and perhaps politics, too, can't help being involved.
Minority-owned or minority-programmed media have long contended that advertisers don't credit their audiences with the value they deserve. A leaked memo from a Katz Radio Group unit showed some in general-market radio are not above trying to use crude racial stereotypes to denigrate those audiences. Now the Federal Communications Commission is looking into whether minority stations get a fair shake in the ad market.
More important than FCC interest, we believe, is the growing interest of big ad agencies in educating clients about multicultural marketing. True North Communications, to name one, is co-sponsoring a three-day meeting for advertisers on the subject. Opening marketers' eyes to business opportunity is the best way to raise value in the marketplace, including the value placed on ads in media that serve minority audiences.