4A's Accelerate: Industry talks #WhatIf, harassment and 'Frenemies'

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Students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School at a panel.
Students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School at a panel.  Credit: Christopher Eckert

This year's 4A's "Accelerate" conference brought together hundreds of agency leaders for three days of networking and talks. Facebook, trust, diversity and the ad industry's role in taking a stand on gun violence dominated conversations both during the programming and on the periphery.

Facebook was top of mind for many as founder Mark Zuckerberg began his congressional testimony regarding the Cambridge Analytica scandal on Tuesday. That morning, Facebook's VP of Global Marketing Solutions for North America Nada Stirratt joined other agency leaders to talk about talent. Stirratt opened by saying Facebook had made mistakes, and had taken steps to learn from them and fix them—in part in the areas of protecting people and regaining their trust.

The Cambridge Analytica fallout also came up in a discussion with Steve King, CEO of Publicis Media, and Julie Rieger, 20th Century Fox Film's president, chief data strategist and head of media.

Rieger recounted her team had been working on a Facebook Messenger chatbot for "Deadpool." After the news hit about the inappropriately used data, she says the team opted to kill the project.

"What we built was actually a fun toy … it was something for our fans to play with," she said. "But what we couldn't afford to do is lose trust with our fans. The first thing that was going to come up in the middle of this was going to be, 'Oh, well, what data are they getting?'"

King also commented on trust issues. "We all know that people are deleting their Facebook. And that calls into question trust," he said. The tech company, he added, has a big job ahead of it: reestablishing that trust.

Auletta talks "Frenemies"

New Yorker writer Ken Auletta joined Horizon Media CEO Bill Koenigsberg onstage Tuesday for a discussion on his new book, "Frenemies: The Epic Disruption of the Ad Business (and Everything Else").

Koenigsberg said the book, which comes out in June, gives readers a "ringside seat" into the ad world's complexities and players. Auletta said he interviewed hundreds of people (absent was Omnicom chief executive John Wren, who declined, he said) in researching the book.

"I think he captured it damn well," Koenigsberg said. But, "I'll tell you what annoyed me a little bit about the book. Everybody in this room thinks we bring significant value to our clients. That is our purpose. And the book talked about the complexity of our industry, but it really didn't touch upon the contributions in a really big way that I feel this industry makes. I felt that was a miss."

"I would argue that the testimonial that you're seeking is actually throughout the book," Auletta said. "The book is predicated on the notion that without advertising—and therefore the people that create the ad messages—the whole media ecosystem collapses. And I believe that."

Agency-client relationships

A number of sessions touched on the at-times tenuous (and changing) relationships agencies have with their clients. In a discussion Monday, Procter & Gamble Chief Brand Officer Marc Pritchard, Grey New York CEO Debby Reiner and Publicis Groupe Chairman & CEO Arthur Sadoun discussed a trio of new agency models, which P&G announced Monday.

One of the models, called "People First," aims to draw the best agency people for each brand, while another combines an AOR on retainer for most work while other projects can be handed out to a different roster of shops.

"There's nothing for the creative community that is less motivating than looking at a room that looks to have 20 different decision makers," Reiner said. "If we're going to get really focused on unlocking creativity, we have to really thin out the filter above it, stop over-managing it and start unlocking it."

Sadoun also made the point that it might be unfair to be always thinking about "agencies of the future," and putting so much responsibility on how much agencies can do for their clients without looking at the other side as well. "Nobody talks about the client of the future," he said, adding that clients need to be investing in their own brands.

Diversity and equality

Issues of diversity were pervasive at this year's conference. In her opening remarks, 4A's CEO and president, Marla Kaplowitz, talked about some of the work the group is doing in this area.

"Although the 4A's has discussed and created programs focused on diversity issues in the industry, we have not done enough for our members to address inclusion in the workplace," she said. "It's time for action, so we are creating a series of playbooks and tools—guides to really help our members." One new initiative, she said, is an "enlightened workplace certification."

In a panel Tuesday afternoon on the topic of diverse leadership, Karen Costello, chief creative officer at The Martin Agency, talked about how the agency has navigated the waters since creative veteran Joe Alexander departed following an internal investigation into an allegation of sexual harassment.

"Creative departments are such a unique microcosm at agencies," she said. "They're ground zero for the worst behavior in our industry very often, but they're also sort of ground zero for some of the most empathetic people, because that's kind of where creativity comes from. So my personal experience at The Martin Agency has been unique because that agency was a bit of ground zero for this Me Too movement in advertising."

Costello said many of the men at the agency were horrified at what had happened, and asked colleagues how they'd be able to help.

"That's one of the biggest things: All you need to do is ask "How I can help?" That shows that you're listening and being empathetic," she said.

Costello added that the agency has started saying "ouch" as a safe word of sorts—connoting that a comment might be inappropriate or could make someone uncomfortable. "We just create a little bit of an environment that allows people to say, "What you just said isn't cool, but let's all just kind of work through this as opposed to making it a big, 'Oh, you hurt my feelings.'" She added that it's a balance of employees knowing they can speak up in a lighter way, or be taken seriously if a more in-depth converstion is desired.


Survivors from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida, spoke at a panel discussion hosted by The Girls' Lounge and The Female Quotient on "What If," a social media campaign meant to urge Congress to act on gun control. They spoke about their hopes for what happens next, and urged the ad industry to use their platforms to make sure this stays top of mind in the cultural conversation.

"My wish from this is just for nobody to start moving on quickly—or ever," student Jayden Bier said. "Nothing like this should ever happen again. I just want everybody to remember and actually make a change out of it. And don't just say, 'I'm sorry this happened.'"

"What they need is our help to take this story out, to get out of the echo chamber, to stop talking to ourselves"" said David Sable, global CEO of Y&R.

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