Post-ANA, industry needs a dose of truth and reconciliation

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South Africa has a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, created to help the republic move past the searing and divisive decades of apartheid. Peru, Sierra Leone, Fiji, even Greensboro, N.C., have truth and reconciliation bodies, designed to allow them to document, learn from and reunite after the factional wars or civil abuses in their recent past.

Maybe it's time for the marketing and advertising communities to establish their own Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Lord knows, they have much to resolve.

I know: The comparison between political terror and industrial disagreement is tactless. But if the recently concluded annual meeting of the Association of National Advertisers is evidence, the divisions between marketers and marketing-services agencies remain stark. Without serious truth-telling and behavioral change, the weaker party in the conflict-that would be agencies-will be supplanted.

The tension was an undercurrent of the ANA's wonderful "Masters of Marketing" meeting, convened last weekend at the historic Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix. With some 900 registrants drinking in the videos, Powerpoints and advice from two dozen of America's most successful brand builders, the gathering reinforced the remarkable renaissance of the ANA as a knowledge broker and learning organization for professional marketers.

But amid the two-and-a-half days of discussions about branding, accountability and organizational effectiveness, there was a gaping absence: agencies, particularly their creative leads. It was a deficiency only articulated on the final day, when Leo Burnett Chairman-Chief Creative Officer Cheryl Berman, in a debate with Home Depot ad chief Roger Adams, noted the dearth and hoped it would be remedied by invitation in 2006.

Why, I wondered, didn't the creatives show up on their own? Indeed, for all the strides they've made in improving their collaborations, agencies and marketers are still talking past each other. Creatives, in particular, pose themselves in opposition, arguing creativity vs. accountability with the same fervor Red Sox fans apply to deliberations about the Yankees. When Ms. Berman closed her case by showing the lovely Apple Computer commercial extolling "the crazy ones," whose ability to "think different" changed the world, you could cut the subtext with a hatchet: Don't constrain our creativity.

But of course, the contest between creativity and accountability is a false dichotomy-as it was 40 years ago, when creatives were rebelling against the tyranny of copy testing. Anything can be measured. The challenge is determining the measures most appropriate to the circumstances.

So why the continuing argument? Perhaps because agencies still resist the professionalization of marketing.

Law, accounting, management consulting and architecture-to name just four of many services professions-are characterized by a fundamental, articulated body of knowledge, which all practitioners must learn, usually through a combination of schooling and apprenticeship, before they are allowed to practice. Specialization certainly occurs, but only after the basics are absorbed.

Marketing has body of knowledge. Its basics include consumer psychology, measurement techniques, sales management, design, media formats and probably many more.

Without arguing that all creatives ought to get Harvard MBAs (or that all CMOs spend a year at Portfolio Center in Atlanta) we should be able to reconcile around this truth: All marketing professionals should have an understanding of a set of essentials-or else they're off the account.

Randall Rothenberg, an author and longtime journalist, is director of intellectual capital at consultancy Booz Allen Hamilton.

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