Ad Week: Guess Who Didn't Show Up and Why

By The Myers Report Archives
Cover image for  article: Ad Week: Guess Who Didn't Show Up and Why

It's important to preface today's report with a tribute to the organizers of last week's Advertising Week in New York, which calls global attention to the ad industry as a major contributor to the economy and to popular culture. It's an enormous success and has become a fixture on the industry landscape. For those just learning about the business, it can be the equivalent of a solid year of grad school. But it would be inappropriate to ignore some concerns and realities that cast a pall over the week.

Of the 200 panels and presentations, only four focused on the legacy television business: one hosted by AMC Networks about its family of hit programs; the second a conversation with El Rey Network founder Robert Rodriguez; the third focused on the challenges of TV time shifting with CBS executive Dave Poltrack; and fourth, a panel convened by NCC that discussed the battle for the local consumer. Turner Broadcasting and Univision executives were featured at a handful of events, making them the most active TV companies during the week. Other than the AMC panel, Turner's participation, a few panels that included Weather Company executives, and one panel with a mid-level Discovery executive, cable TV was dramatically under-represented. Disney/ABC and Fox were nowhere to be found but NBCUniversal did host a panel focused on robots hosted by The Today Show's Willie Geist.

Radio was also mostly ignored except for a Radio Advertising Bureau presentation of the Radio Mercury Awards; the Havas Media "Putting the Band Back Together" event, where a CBS integrated local media exec was incorporated on a panel; and a panel on audio research. Print industry speakers were scattered throughout the week's events, with the editor of Seventeen Magazine also featured by Havas Media plus a panel hosted by Cosmo. But in general print received minimal attention. As far as I could tell, the out-of-home media community was a no show, although the digital OOH community has events scheduled in the next few weeks.

Looking at the Advertising Week organization, it's not a surprise that the event was so heavily weighted to the 17 % of the advertising budget that is targeted to digital media, and that legacy media companies were virtually ignored. Of the 55 members of the Ad Week Board of Directors, only five represent legacy media companies: Erica Farber of the Radio Advertising Bureau, Maryam Banikarim of Gannett, Andrew Capone of NCC Media, Alex Cameron of Emmis and Drew Schutte of Conde Nast. No one from the network TV business. Of the nine Gold Partners, seven represent digital media and only two (Time Inc. and NCC Media) focus on legacy media. There were seven lead Corporate Partners, of which none were from legacy media, and among 82 additional Corporate Partners, only six (AMC, Clear Channel, Cosmopolitan, The Weather Company, NBCU and Univision) represent legacy media interests.

Granted, the CAB, TvB and RAB are included among association partners, but they certainly had limited presence, while the IAB dominated the week with major events on all four days and the mobile community hosted two days of panels and presentations. TV has its very long moment in the sun during the protracted Upfront season, but shouldn't a week-long celebration of advertising feature a greater presence of the media and the companies that dominate the industry landscape? A parade of iconic advertising characters down Madison Avenue is heart-warming to watch, but it's almost as if the medium that made them famous no longer has a place at the industry table.

Advertising agencies themselves were also dramatically under-represented. The ad industry's most recognizable leaders from both the media agency and creative agency organizations and holding companies were rarely seen except when on stage as speakers or panelists. A rare sighting of a senior executive in the audience was Mediabrands' Matt Seiler at the Rubicon Project's Programmatic Buying panel on Thursday morning.

And, for the most part, advertiser clients attending Ad Week were also there to speak rather than learn.

Who's responsible? I'm certain that the organizers of Ad Week would eagerly welcome more TV and print industry representation. Is it hubris that keeps the nets and major magazine companies away from Ad Week, and is this the same attitude that prevents their executives from attending so many of the truly important and valuable industry events across the globe? From TED to Summit, from Cannes to Dubai, senior executives from the legacy TV and print media companies are rarely in attendance. It's only in the past two years that any TV networks found their way to Cannes, led originally by Time Warner/Turner and MTV Networks.

Is it arrogance or is it simply a fundamental difference in the budgetary realities confronting the management of legacy media companies that prevents them from having a presence at these gatherings? Perhaps a combination of both, but budget limitations are at the core of this industry malaise. While digital media companies have the benefit of double and often triple digit annual growth, legacy media companies remain embedded in high cost/low margin business realities. For the past two decades the sales teams of these companies have been under the thumb of cost-cutting financial overlords who go through budgets on a line-by-line basis and cut anything that appears to be irrelevant to the actual systems and processes of writing orders and managing inventory.

Travel has been cut to the bone. Restaurant expenses are limited. Tickets and hospitality scaled back and often eliminated altogether. Conferences and conventions – unless absolutely necessary – are limited to a couple representatives at best (and forget it if they're held at a fine resort on the other side of the country like this week's ANA conference). Yes, several networks continue to take selected clients and their guests on extravagant boondoggles to major sporting events, Sundance, international venues and other locales, but even these rewards are being subjected to cutbacks and requirements that clients foot the resulting income tax bills.

Advertising Week has become a major sales opportunity for digital media and emerging media companies, with little competition from TV, radio, print and out-of-home. So have the Cannes Lions and most of the big media conferences hosted around the world. Legacy media companies cannot afford to allow their brands and leadership positions in the advertising community to be eroded simply because they failed to show up. I'm reminded of the recent New York City mayoral primary in which City Council president Christine Quinn lost a huge lead over the course of several months leading up to the election. Much of the loss is blamed on her failure to respond to a negative ad campaign that ran a year earlier. Voters questioned her positions and her independence opening a window for lesser known candidates like eventual winner Bill D'Blassio. TV networks and especially the broadcast nets are resting on their laurels, and the MBAs controlling their sales and trade marketing budgets fail to understand the need to compete with small upstart media like online video, mobile and social. The TV industry would be wise to establish a serious foundation at future Advertising Weeks, and their executives should demand budgets that allow them to attend and promote their strengths at the important industry events.

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