AAAA Media Conference 2009

4A's Media Attendees Set Bar High for Ideas, Solutions

Getting Down to Business, Tweets and Empty Bars

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NEW ORLEANS (AdAge.com) -- Despite attendance being down by nearly half, those who were in New Orleans for the opening of the 4A's Media Conference & Tradeshow yesterday turned out in force for the first panel, filling the auditorium to standing-room-only capacity. But it didn't take long for those same attendees to start tweeting their disapproval about a pile of paper handouts for the session. American Association of Advertising Agencies President Nancy Hill later joked she didn't need to do an after-conference survey, because she had real-time feedback, thanks to Twitter, about what people liked and didn't like.

Group M Global CEO Irwin Gotlieb
Group M Global CEO Irwin Gotlieb Credit: Art Beaulieu
With so much of the advertising and media business under pressure, attendees set the bar high for the conference to deliver solutions and ideas.

Task force makes recommendations
The first panel, "Project Reinvention: Now Is the Time for Action," included Irwin Gotlieb, global CEO, Group M; Randall Rothenberg, president-CEO, Interactive Advertising Bureau; and Chris Rohrs, president of the Television Bureau of Advertising. Panelists discussed recommendations made by the Local Broadcast Task Force, made up of Kathy Crawford of Group M and Mark Lund of NBC Universal, among others, and the 4A's/IAB Interactive Reinvention Task Force, whose members include David Cohen of Universal McCann.

The task force laid out recommendations for local broadcast TV that included moving away from making ad buys based on the gross ratings point, a metric used in local broadcast buying, and toward the cost-per-thousand-viewers model used by national TV.

The task force, which was founded in 2007 to improve terms and conditions, standard business documents, and data exchange, also recommended updating business procedures that would allow transactions to be carried out via electronic methods, moving toward automating back-office transactions to prove ads have run so vendors can then get paid for them.

The electronic-trading panel was followed by two more highly populated talks. "Measuring the Real Value of Internet Media" featured Rex Briggs, CEO of Marketing Evolution; Kevin Clancy, chairman of Copernicus Marketing; and David Smith, founder and CEO of Mediasmith. The panel was moderated by the co-founder and CEO of eMarketer, Geoff Ramsey, who asked each of the panelists to use one word to sum up the current state of measurement. They obliged with responses such as "incomplete," "confusing," "disconnected" and "enigma."

Talk turns to cookies
At one point the discussion turned to the topic of cookies, the bit of code on web browsers that, among other things, keeps track of consumers and the websites they visit. Mr. Briggs said the industry should give consumers more access to the data compiled by cookies to allow them to be part of the discussion. Mr. Clancy said cookies will eventually become the poster boy for permission-based marketing.

Panelists also derided clicks as the standard for demonstrating consumer engagement with online ads. A discussion ensued about how to measure when consumers see brand messages in the purchase-decision process; what causes them to type that product's name into a search engine; and when that leads to a sale.

"Search is doing a good job of taking a lot of the credit," said Mr. Smith, which got raucous applause.

Later, Mr. Briggs said marketers need to be clear about what consumer behavior they are trying to measure before they roll out some of these experiments so the successful ones can be duplicated.

A third panel, "New Business Models and Monetization of Marketing," did provide ideas for how agencies can find new revenue streams. Jeff Stier, CEO of the Almian Group, presented a project he worked on while employed at WPP ad shop JWT. "Sector 64" was a way for the agency to build media properties it could license to its marketer clients. While he acknowledged that development is costly, he said it's no more expensive than pitching for a new account.

Investing in new technologies
"If you are willing to pay $500,000 to mount a new-business pitch, and you are competing against two other agencies, you only have a 33% chance of getting a return on that money," he said. But if you put that same amount into development of a new way to reach consumers, even if it doesn't work, you come away with a better understanding of what does work. And if you do develop a successful product, licensing that to marketers will continue to bring the agency revenue. "It's like bees to honey. You make the honey, the bees will come," he said.

Jeff Stier, CEO of the Almian Group
Jeff Stier, CEO of the Almian Group Credit: Art Beaulieu
One JWT product that came out of the unit was a text-messaging application called T Minus Movies, a way to help movie marketers close the gap between consumers seeing a trailer for an upcoming movie and buying a ticket. Consumers can text the name of the movie to T Minus Movies, and they will be put in a virtual line for the day when tickets go on sale. When tickets are available, the app texts the consumer.

Despite some solid ideas from that last panel, one agency executive said the agenda was unimpressive. "I looked at the agenda and thought, 'I don't know who that agenda is meant for,'" the executive said.

One exhibitor and first-time attendee found the format rather useless. "It's more informative when you have someone up there talking about a case study instead of panelists just giving you snippets of information," the attendee said. "If this becomes one panel after the other, there won't be enough pertinent information for people to walk away with. Show me what works, and maybe even more importantly, talk to me about hasn't worked for you."

The attendee described the exhibit hall as a room full of salespeople trying to sell to media people who don't have any money to spend. But that attendee was holding out hope for the rest of the conference.

"Let's see what tomorrow brings. Today might have just been a meat-and-potatoes kind of day," the attendee said.

Needs to serve its purpose
Lee Doyle, CEO of Mediaedge:cia and one of the people who helped create the agenda, said he couldn't comment on the criticism that was taking place on Twitter because he hadn't seen it yet. But he said if attendees didn't start to feel as if they were getting answers to the questions they all seemed to be asking, then the conference would not have served its purpose.

"All of the small and midsize agencies are here looking for help, and they are all facing business challenges," Mr. Doyle said. "If we don't provide those solutions, they are going to be upset."

Mr. Doyle said the concern of those in attendance was clearly evident during the cocktail hour. "This was not a schmooze fest," Mr. Doyle said. "It was very businesslike, and people were getting to the point fast and talking about business."

That point was underscored by the hotel's empty bar. At past conferences, the first night usually found bars so packed that attendees spilled out into hotel walkways, but last night a group of fewer than 20 barely filled the stools, and by 12:15, everyone was gone.