Looking Ahead: AAF conference finds attendees feeling optimistic

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[bal harbour, fla.] Although the outlook for the ad business remains murky amid consolidation, globalization and a changing creative environment, executives at the American Advertising Federation's national conference were hopeful about the future.

Record attendance set an upbeat tone, as AAF President-CEO Wallace Snyder reported 900 delegates registered. Tom Robinson, managing director-precision marketing services for Taylor Nelson Sofres' CMR, told AAF members that flat ad spending for the first quarter of 2002 was better than expected and could be a harbinger of recovery. CMR earlier forecast the quarter to be down 5.4%, but consumer spending was up 0.4%, he said. "I'm happy to report that we've been wrong so far," said Mr. Robinson. Despite the challenges of consolidation, cross-platform media buys and the static economy, he said there is stronger-than-expected broadcast and newspaper media spending and a local advertising boost is anticipated for the back half of 2002 from elections.

Keynote speaker Chris Clouser, exec VP-chief global marketing officer for Diageo's Burger King Corp. surprised attendees with 300 Whoppers and Chicken Whoppers and his BK Legends Band, made up of rock and roll "All Stars" fronted by Felix Cavaliere from the Rascals and Lou Graham from Foreigner. The ad hoc rock concert was a fitting metaphor to illustrate Mr. Clouser's brief remarks about patronizing the independent agencies who control 20% of the total advertising expenditures. In reaction to the Big Four holding companies consolidating as a way to gain global clients with best-of-breed services, Mr. Clouser said the notion is "theoretically valid, but only when the client adopts it." He added, "[The] clients' challenge is to make sure the ad holding companies make sure they are offering their all-stars."

During a later workshop, one attendee asked panelist Mary Baglivo, president-CEO of Panoramic Communications, whether holding companies have taken the craft out of advertising. Ms. Baglivo conceded that "when you move out of the individual agencies, it gets harder to stick to those [creative] values."

Former Wells, Rich, Greene founder Mary Wells Lawrence offered her own silver lining that advertising's time is about to rise again. "Usually [a negative] economy brings back the respect that creativity and content is the holy grail," she said. "This is a great time to get into advertising. It will roar again ... out of sheer necessity."

One the most contentious government-relations issues for the AAF is in protecting direct-to-consumer advertising, now under fire by Congress, which wants to limit the ads and blames them for inflating healthcare costs. Mr. Snyder said four states, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Nebraska and Florida, are pushing for ad taxes.

survey results

During the breakout session on the topic, Rodale's Prevention magazine outlined results from its fifth survey on consumer reaction to DTC advertising. The study has shown for five years that less than one-third of consumers demanded advertised drugs when they visit their doctors. "We are not creating an environment where consumers are running to doctors with pitchforks saying, `I want to be medicated,"' said Ed Slaughter, corporate director-marketing research, Rodale.

Another big priority for AAF is to provide better multicultural services, and to that end on Sept. 13 the AAF will host its Mosaic Awards and Multicultural Expo in Washington, co-sponsored by U.S. Representatives Robert Menendez (N.J.) and Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick (Mich.), both Democrats. AAF also plans to unveil soon a comprehensive multicultural database to locate minority companies; an online database called ProfLink to identify advertising and marketing academic programs; and an e-mail newsletter, Interact, to improve outreach and communication.

Fast Facts

Organization: American Advertising Federation

What: National Conference

Where: Bal Harbour, Fla.

When: June 5-8

Attendance: 900

Challenges: Protect DTC ads, provide better multicultural services, improve outreach.

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