Four A's chief stirs things up

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Brendan Ryan, CEO of FCB Worldwide and the new chairman of the American Association of Advertising Agencies, didn't live up to the predictions of the Kuder Preference test he took in grammar school, which said he'd be best suited as a short-order cook.

He did, however, go into the food business, spending 10 years in product development at General Foods and later was VP-marketing at Citibank.

Ryan went over to the agency side of the business in 1997, joining Ogilvy & Mather, where he eventually became executive worldwide director, and spent 14 years at the agency heading up accounts for American Express Co. and Kraft Foods Inc. He joined FCB Worldwide in 1991 and served as president-CEO of FCB New York for five years. In 1996, Ryan was named CEO of FCB Worldwide, based in New York.

Earlier this month, he took over the reins as chairman of the Four A's at the group's annual management conference in Naples, Fla.

BtoB: What are your goals as the new chairman of the Four A's?

Ryan: I think we have an issue as an industry that a lot of our constituencies, including clients, are forgetting. We are underestimating the power of advertising. The focus in our business has shifted more to a discussion of how agencies are paid instead of the value agencies can bring to a client, a brand, a business. The game has gotten a lot tougher, and it's a really critical moment in the game. We have to work as an industry on that perception instead of squabbling about how we're paid.

BtoB: Where should advertisers be putting their marketing dollars now?

Ryan: From the advertiser side, I believe advertising will continue to be the primary marketing tool. It will become more connected with direct mail and interactive marketing. It's inevitable they are all coming together.

Advertisers should spend more on using database marketing. Most companies spend a lot of money on databases, but they have not been successful at turning the data into really useful information. When that happens, you can use that information more effectively to better direct all communications, including advertising.

This stuff applies even more than ever to the b-to-b guys. You know more about your customer than ever. This really is b-to-b territory.

BtoB: What are the top three things you would advise for agencies right now?

Ryan: No. 1, start with clients. Make sure your advertising is effective. Is it moving sales? If it's not, you're in trouble. The pressure on clients for immediate profit results has never been more intense. If you're not there making sure they're getting results, you'd better worry.

No. 2, the offering must go beyond traditional advertising. If you're not offering a combination of interactive and direct marketing at a minimum, along with TV and other traditional advertising, you'll probably be left behind.

No. 3, make sure you have the best people tied down, and go get more.

BtoB: Where do you get them?

Ryan: Everywhere. We have to expand our net beyond stealing each other's people and go outside the industry, from all places, not the least of which could be dot-coms.

BtoB: What are three things you would recommend to clients?

Ryan: No. 1, make sure there are compelling points of difference to their product offering. You have to give agencies something to say in the advertising.

No. 2, focus on the strength advertising can bring to their marketing, and make sure it's being supported properly at the right level.

No. 3, look at their own organizational structure and see that it is designed for a very different kind of marketing that's coming. [It] must reflect relationships with customers rather than traditional, isolated product lines.

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