4A's Conference

What You Missed at Transformation 2011

A Roundup of What Industry Leaders and Peers Said From the 4A's Confab in Austin

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In its second year as the Transformation Conference, the American Association of Advertising Agencies' annual confab found industry leaders striking a more optimistic tone. But they still found plenty of issues to gnaw over, from talent management to the quality of creative to regulatory issues.


In a surprising show of honesty, a panel of ad execs owned up to how much -- or little -- truly great work they thought their agencies produced. When asked by Cindy Gallop, former head of Bartle Bogle Hegarty, New York, and founder of IfWeRanTheWorld, all the panelists said less than 50%. Peter McGuinness, chairman-CEO of Interpublic's Gotham, said 45%; Claudia Batten of Victors & Spoils said 30%; Duff Stewart, president-CEO of Omnicom Group's GSD&M, said 20% to 25%; and Howard Draft, executive chairman of DraftFCB, said only 20%.


For an ad agency conference, a panel on crowd-sourcing was surprisingly long on evangelists and short on skeptics, though a couple audience members piped up to ask questions about the practice's potential longevity. Answer: It's here to stay.

4A's Nancy Hill
4A's Nancy Hill Credit: Karl Leslie

In response to worries about whether agency employees could be put out of work by crowd-sourcing, Ignacio Oreamuno, panelist and president of crowd-sourcing shop GiantHydra, said he was confident that agency employees and even freelancers will be paid. Of course, the question is, how much?

Charles Chappell, digital and e-commerce leader for beauty and grooming at Procter & Gamble, said P&G has used crowd-sourcing to generate design for several of its brands, but he still has worries. P&G has been working on leveraging online consumer ratings and reviews for its products. If product reviews are good, Mr. Chappell said, they will help a brand's images. But if they're bad, the marketer could run into problems trying to manage any potential control it had over badly reviewed products.


The last panel of the conference discussed regulation issues, and Bob Liodice, president-CEO of the Association of National Advertisers, took the opportunity to address the remarks made earlier in the event by David Vladek, director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection. While Mr. Liodice said he was encouraged by the FTC's stance on self-regulation -- supporting it when it comes to consumer privacy and protection in an era of online data collection -- he feared the FTC doesn't have "a workable definition of tracking."

A panel on regulation closed the 4A's Conference
A panel on regulation closed the 4A's Conference Credit: Karl Leslie

The panel, held during the same week Ad Age's Regulation Issue bowed, also addressed a remark made by Omnicom CEO John Wren earlier in the day: The role of a digital chief may soon be extinct, replaced perhaps with a chief privacy officer responsible for the reams of data advertisers and agencies are dealing with.


America succeeded in globalizing the world; it just forgot to globalize itself. That was the gist of the wake-up call delivered by Fareed Zakaria, editor-at-large at Time. The country is at a severe competitive disadvantage, he said, citing several reasons. For one thing, companies in emerging markets are starting to develop and market their own brands. For another, the U.S. faces a talent crisis and has slid in the rankings in everything from rate of college-educated workers to proficiency in science. Finally, he said, the government continues to finance spending with huge amounts of debt.

Ad Age asked Mr. Zakaria what's better for the world economy: To buy a Ford Fusion made in Mexico or a Hyundai Sonata made in Alabama. "Ideally you want both -- great global companies that have the ability to play in the global arena, but you need a strong work force that uses talent efficiently. If I were forced to choose what's better for the American economy, I'd say the Hyundai. At the end of the day, we can't exist as an island of innovation in a sea of unemployed and untrained workers," he said.


Unilever CMO-Chief Creative Officer Keith Weed used his on-stage interview to send a directive to the marketer's many digital agencies: change is afoot. Likening the current approach of campaign-based pitching and hiring to the way Unilever worked with promotions in the '80s, he said he was interested in building longer, more permanent relationships with them -- but not all of them. "Now is the time to show us your best, because down the road, we won't be working with all of you," he told Ad Age afterward.


One of the more curious phrases uttered at the conference was introduced by Bill Koeningsberg, president-CEO of Horizon Media and incoming president of the 4A's, in his opening remarks: "Get out of bed each morning and make love with the media world we live in ... don't fight it"

Ewww, more than a few people thought -- but it didn't stop the love-making meme. The phrase was repeated by at least two other speakers. We prefer to keep the bedroom talk out of the conference.

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