NEW ORLEANS (AdAge.com) -- As the economy causes agencies to tighten their belts and rein in travel expenses, the American Association of Advertising Agencies kicks off its media conference and trade show with almost half as many registered attendees as it had last year. Kipp Cheng, senior VP-communications at the 4A's, told Ad Age on the eve of the conference that it only had 654 registered attendees, compared with last year's event, which topped out at around 1,200.
"The reality is we are in tough economic times, so companies have to be thoughtful of how they spend their money," Mr. Cheng told Ad Age. "And we have been thoughtful about how we have programmed this conference. There's not a comedian opening the show. It's not a fun-and-games type of thing; it's a working conference."
But despite the lower number, which doesn't take into account no-shows or on-site registrations, Mr. Cheng said it's the quality of the attendees, not the quantity, that matters. "It's going to be a more intimate meeting," he said. "But the difference for us this year is in the past when an agency would have sent eight to 10 people, they are maybe sending two or three this year, but it will be the most senior-level people."
Another change for the 4A's meeting this year, taking place in New Orleans, will be the focus of the conference, which this year will be the consumer. The tagline of the show is "The Consumer is ... watching ... listening ... clicking ... connecting." The meeting runs March 4-6.
This morning will kick off with three panels, each featuring a different focus group of New Orleans-based consumers: young consumers ages 20 to 30, baby boomers or women 24 to 54. From that point on, Mr. Cheng said, "every single panel and speaker is going to be responding to what these focus groups are going to be saying. So that will add an element of surprise to the conference because who knows what these focus groups are going to say. They might say, 'Nobody is reaching me effectively' or 'People are reaching me just fine.'"
"Most media conferences oftentimes are about a specific media type like TV or about technology or it's the grand cliche of the transforming media landscape and there's something kind of conceptual about that," he said, "vs. having six people from different demographic groups sitting in front of the industry telling them how they consume media and what they get and what they don't get. That's different for us."
Among the panels at this year conference are "Project Reinvention: Now is the Time for Action," moderated by Harold Geller, senior VP-digital initiatives at the 4A's, and featuring Irwin Gotlieb, global CEO, Group M, and Randall Rothenberg, president-CEO, Interactive Advertising Bureau, and "Head of the Media Families Make You an Offer You Can't Refuse," moderated by Jonah Bloom, editor of Advertising Age, and featuring Jerry Buhlman, CEO of Aegis Media; Maria Luisa Francoli, global CEO of MPG; Mr. Gotlieb; Matt Seiler, global CEO of Universal McCann; and Page Thompson, CEO-North America, Omnicom Media Group.