I write this while sitting on a balcony at the Ritz Carlton in Naples, Fla., where your annual meeting is taking place. In one of the rooms below me your august committee has convened to start the process of identifying and luring Mr. Drake's successor as the organization's next CEO. You have a $750,000 salary as bait, not to mention perks (such as a rumored free apartment in New York), so you can't use that as an excuse for failing to make a great hire.
Given that your association provides me with this excuse to get a couple of days sunny respite from the Venetian waterways of New York, it may sound churlish to suggest that this appointment has to mark the beginning of a major upheaval in the approach of the 4A's. Put simply, the new chief needs to be a change agent, not a caretaker -- someone capable of making this organization and the agencies it represents as relevant and exciting as they should be in this information age.
While your 4A's Media Conference has attracted sizeable crowds in recent years, it has also been little more than a trade show, with the few high-level speakers too often tackling nuts-and-bolts issues. Such practicalities should be reserved for junior-level training courses. Attendees would be better served by a clear vision for the media industry.
This conference is a much smaller, clubbier meeting. Within minutes of being here, I've eyed the same cabal of ad people who always attend. There goes Stone Roberts, there's Ron Berger, there's Tony Hopp. These are decent, smart men who've contributed a lot to the business, but the absence of new faces year after year speaks to the association's stagnation and the fact that it represents too narrow a slice of the marketing world.
Where are Goodby, Bogusky, Wieden or any number of the young Turks who've created great new agencies around the country? Where are the planning whiz kids and the search-marketing experts? Where are the CMOs? Where are the design gurus? The cutting-edge digital creatives? Where are the leading authors and theorists who are re-thinking the whole idea of what constitutes marketing? Where are the database experts? OK, so Daniel Morel is here from Wunderman. But most of the attendees are people who run ad shops. Of course it's nice for them to meet and share their similar experiences, but at a time of so much change, this event ought to be about stretching minds and breaking down silos, not just sharing and reassuring.
You have to find a successor for Mr. Drake who can reach outside of the traditional ad-agency sphere and unite the associations for all these different disciplines. Why do the DMA, PRSA, ARF, AEF, AAF, Ad Council and 4A's need to be separate? Why do we need a separate media conference or planning conference? Charge your next CEO with breaking down these anachronistic barriers by unifying as many of the conferences and associations as possible.
I hear everyone around me talking about how the biggest challenge is attracting digital talent. But those kids who are co-creating flash animations or multiplayer online gaming tribes can't possibly look at the 4A's, its membership or its events and think, "I absolutely have to be a part of that action."
Yet marketing, in reality, has never been as exciting as it is today. It's not just the messages being co-created with consumers or the incredible technologies available to those who want to have conversations with their customers. It's the fact that real growth for corporations in such a mature market will come only from innovation and the addition of brand value -- essentially the business of marketing. From my seat here in Naples, your association doesn't reflect this fast-moving, digital and increasingly integrated world.
Your job, tough as it might be, is to find a CEO who can change that.