ANA on track

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It's hard to pat an organization on the back for correcting a mistake it never should have made (and repeated) in the first place. That said, the Association of National Advertisers deserves a nod of approval for its decision to quit selling the agenda of its annual management meeting to sponsors.

The ANA conference that ended Oct. 16 in Laguna Niguel, Calif., marked the first time since 1996 that the association was in charge of the programming, and it led to a marked improvement in content quality. Among the highlights were speeches by the top executives at Procter & Gamble Co., Nestle USA, 3Com Corp. and Miller Brewing Co. (In the interest of full disclosure, Advertising Age Editor Scott Donaton participated in the conference as the moderator of a panel on the transformative impact of new technologies on the media marketplace.)

While many attendees gave the meeting mixed reviews during coffee-break chatter, it was clearly stronger than it was the last three years, when companies such as CBS Corp. and Hearst Corp. picked the speakers and the topics. This year's improvements were wholly attributable to the independence of the agenda.

ANA still needs to take a number of steps to make its conference more relevant and appealing to younger, time-pressed marketing executives. One easy fix would be to slice at least one night off a four-night agenda that currently eats into parts of two work weeks.

But if ANA President John J. Sarsen, Jr. had any doubts about whether he made the right call in dropping the sponsorship model (and its attendant revenues), he now has all the proof necessary that the move was in the best interests of his association and its membership.

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