Media Agencies Bask in Sun -- and Solo Attention

At Venice Festival of Media: C-Squared Already Planning Next Year's

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VENICE, Italy ( -- Venice relinquished its claim to be "La Republica Serinissima" during C-Squared's inaugural Festival of Media, as the furious networking of the media fraternity rapidly robbed this Italian city of its historic serenity. The two-day festival has been a small but slick operation, blessed by beautiful weather and enhanced by great food and drink served in settings to rival Cannes. C-Squared is already planning next year's festival, with ambitions to double the number of delegates and then double it again in the third year.
Photo: AP

Media executives got their own festival this week in Venice. One CEO said less suit-wearing could help the event lighten up and maybe rival Cannes.

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For this first event, 420 media specialists from around the world were persuaded to make the trip here. Fifty-five were guest speakers and a similar number were marketers. The rest were mostly from media agencies and media owners, the bulk from Europe and the U.S., with those countries accounting for around 378 delegates. There were 25 from South America, two from Africa and 15 from Asia.

Coke's Lee steals the show
Attendees proved enthusiastic about the concept of a "festival of media creativity and innovation," as C-Squared calls it, and most were pretty pleased with the reality. The lineup of speakers was impressive, starting with Coca Cola Co.'s chief creative officer, Esther Lee, and finishing with the global media directors of Procter & Gamble Co. (Bernhard Glock) and Unilever (Alan Rutherford) on the same stage. The package-goods powerhouses were pleased with the festival, despite their P&G vs. Unilever debate proving to not be the highlight of the festival. That accolade went to Ms. Lee, whose honesty and intellect won over the entire audience.

"This is a very important event," Mr. Rutherford said. "The media industry has to get together to show leadership in the development of brand communications and how we move the game on together. It's in all our interests to put together a plan to develop the industry to manage the future landscape."

"It's a forum to meet and engage and have a dialogue so that we can take the whole thing forward," Mr. Glock said.

While the discussion panels were mostly stimulating and interesting, delegates agreed that they could have benefited from a more diverse lineup to generate genuine debate.

Less sales pitch, more sharing
The main criticism was reserved for the many speakers who used the event as a sales pitch. One media agency delegate said, "We could have done with a lot less selling, especially from media agencies -- they were almost putting up billings and rankings charts. Our captains of industry should have taken the opportunity to be more personal. It's very difficult to get these people to show up, but when they do they have an obligation to be big enough to share their viewpoint on the state of the industry."

Dominic Proctor, CEO of MindShare Worldwide and probably the only conference speaker not to mention his company's name, said, "It was a good start. It will get better next time. We need more clients here to join the debate. It was very U.S. and U.K. Next year we need to encourage Asia and Latin America to come. Cannes has not really caught on as a media event, so it's nice to have our own event. Despite our place in the sun, the media industry still lacks confidence."

Although the conference was well-attended, delegates from both the agency and media-owner worlds hope for more clients next year.

"It has established a good platform to move forward," said Nigel Morris, CEO of Isobar and one of the conference panelists. "There was a level of consensus about the need for change, and clients made a good contribution. It would be good to see more of the creative sector here next year."

Yahoo's presence
Yahoo was the main sponsor of the festival, with a substantial presence both days. Wenda Harris Millard, the company's chief sales officer, said she would definitely sponsor it again next year. "Yahoo is very passionate about the advertising business and associated issues," she said. "You might think it's risky first time, but our instinct is to jump in and get involved. We take the high ground -- we write checks and show up and participate. It's important to understand the global point of view."

Will the Venice Festival rival Cannes? For media people, who are lost in the midweek scrum at Cannes, Venice offers a promising alternative. The main difference between the two events, however, was identified by Mr. Morris. "Did you see how many people were in suits?" he asked. "If the Venice festival and the media industry can lighten up just a little, then it could be a winning combination."
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