One of the industry's largest gatherings, the 4A's Media Conference, kicked off last night as 1,600 media buyers and sellers descended on Venice.
OK, not really. But we are at the Venetian Resort-Hotel-Casino, soon to be one of the largest hotels in the world, once they finish building a second tower, and no expense was spared in the effort to make visitors feel as if they were walking along Italy's famous canals.
OK, one canal. But still, they do have gondolas and gondoliers who stop their boats and serenade passengers as they float by under a trompe l'oeil ceiling that just almost makes you feel as if you're standing outside under a cloud-sprinkled, oh, so carefully lit blue sky. Still, that doesn't help MediaWorks shake the feeling that we are trapped in a mall. For one, there are the Grand Canal Shoppes such as Ca'D'Oro, Venetzia, Il Prato, Dolce Due, and er, Banana Republic, Ann Taylor and Sephora. Or one can grab a gelato at Cocolini, or snag some crusty bread or pastries at Tintioretto Bakery, or just give up on the pretense and go to the food court for Shake N Burger or Krispy Kreme.
In short, the DisneyWorld for grown-ups lives up to its name (helped by the very theme-park-esque, two-city-block-long line that snaked back and forth four times for taxis at the airport. The Venetian may be a mall, but it's also got Canyon Ranch spa, Blue Man Group, Phantom of the Opera, and, of course, the casino. It remains to be seen whether a sense of unreality permeates the sessions, or if one will leave with a firm grasp of the complex issues facing today's beleaguered media buyer.
A first session yesterday, squeezed in right before the opening reception on the trade-show floor, on e-trading (the project from a group of marketers that kicked off when Julie Roehm was still at Wal-mart to set up an online auction via eBay to trade TV time) was mostly a plea to get cable guys to give up some of their spot time so a proper test could be had. Obviously, still much progress to be made here.
First up this morning is Marc Goldstein, CEO North America of MindShare and chair of the 4A's Media Policy Committee. We were told last night on the QT that he promises to make some news with his welcome speech. Just what we need, a bracing dash of reality.
9:10 a.m.: The Kickoff
Can't we all just get along? That essentially was the plea from Marc Goldstein, Group M North America CEO and the 4A's Media Policy Committee chairman, at his welcome speech to attendees. He kicked off the address by imploring his fellow attendees to pledge to make this the year the industry actually stops talking about things like commercial ratings and setting up e-biz solutions and take steps to solve the barriers in the way of getting them done. After all, who wants to start next year's conference in Orlando by talking about the same stuff?
So, commercial ratings? The main barrier would be the inability of the media sellers and media buyers to agree on what form the ratings from Nielsen Media Research should take now that digital video recorders are in the picture. Should we use live viewing? Live-plus-same-day viewing? Live plus three day?
Marc's solution? Compromise.
"There are many parties involved -- agencies, networks, clients, Nielsen themselves -- and it seems unlikely anyone will get everything they want," before reminding the audience of an essential albeit painful truth of all media measurement. "Let's not forget that there are no absolute truths here, we're dealing with estimates based on sampling, not universal measurement." (A reality we'll have to live with, MediaWorks figures, until we're all walking around with chips implanted in our heads.)
Goldstein's call to action was to set the bar a little lower. "Let us agree today, to paraphrase Neil Armstrong, there will not be a giant leap forward this year. But in this instance, there must be a small step, and I believe compromise is the best way to ensure that we take the next right step." Optimistically, he offered that it was possible to get the ratings issue settled before this year's upfront, but only with the commitment to put in the hard work.
He also called on the industry to commit to hiring a more diverse workforce, and noted the especially hostile climate back in New York over this issue during the past six months.
He called for the industry to resist commoditization, and assured his fellow media buyers that no matter how innovative Google, Yahoo, SpotRunner, Visible World and eBay might be, we'll always need human judgment in the equation.
He urged his fellow media buyers to continue to act as content creators, but not just to "stay the course" but to "up the ante" by looking at platforms as a "clean slate" that will allow them to "take it to the next level" in his distinctly cliche-ridden call for originality.
He then tackled the thorny debate of unbundling (whether to keep media planning with media agencies or creative agencies), coming down unsurprisingly, on the side of leaving control with the media agencies. Creatives can be kept in the loop via e-mail, Blackberries, cellphones and good old-fashion meetings. Keep communication avenues open and everyone can work on strategy together.
So to sum up:
No. 1 -- Compromise on commercial ratings and just get the darn thing moving already.
No. 2 -- Reach out to as many people of diverse backgrounds as possible to get buyers who look more like diverse America.
No. 3 -- You, too, can be a content creator.
No. 4 -- It's 2007, get the back-office systems online already.
And, finally: Collaborate! It's the right thing to do.
10 a.m. Diversity! Diversity! Diversity!
E. Morris Communications founder Eugene Morris was the moderator for the session labeled "The Business Case for Diversity." But given the vast clear out of the hall as soon as this panel got going, MediaWorks was left to wonder who was left to hear the case. Still, it is an issue the industry better start figuring out, and Morris was quick to tell those in the room they better get a better plan than their current one -- getting multicultural representation within mainstream ad agencies by stealing from African-American and Hispanic shops. "One, that is not going to help the industry, and two, that is not going to help me," he said, because it leaves the industry with no net increase of staffers who aren't white.
Burrell's Linda Johnson, one of the panelists, agreed. One of the things mainstream agencies need to think about, she said, is what they are doing with the people they have on staff. Are they grooming them for the next level or top positions? And if they do promote a person of color out of a mid-level position, do they have enough people coming up the ranks to replace them?
Tapestry's Monica Gadsby said much of her time is taken up with recruitment efforts and outreach programs to colleges and multicultural college groups. While she encourages students who apply for an internship to think about any of the ad agencies Tapestry is associated with, she acknowledged that often students have the interest and passion to request working on multicultural campaigns, so fewer end up at mainstream agencies. That makes it that more important for mainstream agencies to reach out.
The industry also needs better research to truly understand these audiences, as current research often only includes a tiny sample from any given population. And TV One's Jonathan Rodgers urged the industry to be more supportive of minority-owned media, especially those outlets that are trying to fill a gaping hole in what they offer African-American audiences beyond sports or hip-hop.
2 p.m.: Break Out!
After a buffet lunch in the exhibit hall, attendees were free to choose from three break out sessions. MediaWorks headed over to "Measurement," where the program promised a discussion on emerging media by the 4As Digital Innovation Committee. We were not alone -- unlike the morning's diversity panel, the session was standing-room only to hear MediaCom's Russ Booth, Denuo's Tim Hanlon and Louis Jones of Media Contacts expound on the need for better measurement guidelines.
"There is a need for more sophisticated information on how people consume video," Hanlon said. "I'm disheartened that three years later, we are still talking about it. ... The reality is the consumers are much further along in their consumption than we are in our ability to measure it."
He went on to say: "I'm not so concerned about the technology as I am with the politics," expressing frustration that different factions have made if difficult to move forward.
"It doesn't matter where best practices come from, as long as they come from somewhere," he said. Data can come from any of the usual suspects, or it can come from an upstart; Hanlon promised he'd find a way to mesh them if he had reliable and stable data to start with.
Russ Booth chimed in, saying its not about criticizing one group, it's recognizing that progress is good wherever it comes from.
Louis Jones hammered home the point that the industry better not wait for a single data provider to come up with a silver bullet. "It's an issue of speed," he said, noting that more specialized firms are quicker and also often come up with more interesting ways to slice the data. "Bigger firms can integrate that data, but at a slower pace." A better perspective is deciding what's good data, rather than limiting the sources of data.
The digital team fielded so many questions from attendees, it left very little time for iO Global's Bob DeSena to discuss engagement. He ended up having to speed through the end of his presentation. But here's the Cliff Note's version: The current working definition is "Turning on a prospect to a brand idea enhanced by surrounding content."
Now the next step is understanding how that definition can lead to marketing strategies that get us to the point where relationships with consumers are functional and welcome. Time to create the business model to do that.
MediaWorks' second breakout session to go to, "Q&A with Seven AAAA Media Committee Heads," was moderated by Marc Goldstein. He was joined by Carat's Andy Donchin (national TV/radio); Initiative's Janice Finkel-Greene (local TV/radio); Kinetic's Connie Garrido (out of home); Denuo's Nick Pahade (digital); MediaVest's Robin Steinberg (print) and PHD's Judy Vogel (research). Since this was entirely questions from the audience, it was, as Goldstein predicted in his intro, a bit of a free for all.
After a late-night dinner, followed by meandering around the casino, followed by a full day of keeping up with a conference full of speakers, MediaWorks flagged a bit here. We tried to keep up with the jumping from topic to topic, but it never really arrived at any through line. But we liked the Kenneth Gilbraith-quoting Finkel-Greene very much, so we declare her the winner.
Now, on to the 5 p.m. cocktails on the trade-show floor and another late-night dinner.
Check back tomorrow for 4A's, Day Two