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John Sarsen says he wants to shake up the Association of National Advertisers.

"We want to eliminate the old stodgy things about ANA and revitalize it, re-energize it," the group's new president said in his first press interview.

Mr. Sarsen, a longtime marketing executive in the package-goods and financial services industries, was running his own consultancy when recruited as ANA president earlier this year (AA, April 18).

Though the ANA has received good marks as a watchdog on legislative issues-particularly proposed ad taxes and the assault on advertising deductibility-the group has also been perceived unenthusiastically as an older, insider organization, even by members.

And membership has slipped, partly because of consolidation among many of its founding consumer-goods members.

Issues such as the advent of interactive media, the single focus of last month's ANA conference, "should cause companies to want to be part of ANA," Mr. Sarsen said.

He said his challenge is figuring out what the ANA needs to do, and reorganizing to fit those needs. The president said he hasn't fully assembled his new ANA staff, after the departures of a handful of staffers during the summer. Mr. Sarsen has hired one new senior VP, Robin Webster, but said he's assessing how current staffers' time should be allocated.

Mr. Sarsen said the ANA, though still in the process of determining what the collective members' needs are, has already targeted three key items: continuing leadership in legislative/regulatory issues in Washington; education in new technologies; and encouraging and spearheading all-industry involvement in key issues such as minority hiring.

The ANA began its annual conference last month with a day of member workshops designed to glean ideas for reconfiguring the association.

"The conference really was a signal of change," Mr. Sarsen said. Rather than trotting out the same speeches on the importance of building brand equity, the ANA chose to focus this year's program exclusively on the impact of new technologies-a decision that wasn't necessarily a hit among all the attendees but definitely a change of pace.

The ANA picked up the cue from Procter & Gamble Co. Chairman Ed Artzt in forming the Coalition for Advertiser-Supported Information & Entertainment, to monitor legislation and support the role of advertising in all media-and in calling for an industry meeting to discuss the impact of new technologies. Invited to the January conference are the American Association of Advertising Agencies and the American Advertising Federation.

Mr. Sarsen pointed to that as an example of how the ANA would like to move faster: "We could have still been floundering around on that issue, but our new mandate is to be pro-active rather than reactive."

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