Nancy Hill of the 4As: Trade Leaders on Automation and Programmatic

Cover image for  article: Nancy Hill of the 4As: Trade Leaders on Automation and Programmatic

In a series of conversations with trade association leaders and their view of impacts of ad automation, programmatic and other priorities, Jay Sears, Senior Vice President of Rubicon Project, discusses trends and issues of the day impacting advertisers and media owners. In this interview, he talks with Nancy Hill, President and CEO of the 4As. Hill’s ad agency members create or buy 80% of the advertising in the U.S. She has personally led the 4As’ work on diversity including recruitment, talent development and media buying guidelines.

JAY SEARS: What do you read to keep up with politics, art and culture?

NANCY HILL: The New York Times, Vanity Fair, Wired

SEARS: What do you read to keep up with friends?

HILL: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram

SEARS: What do you read to keep up with the media and advertising technology industries?

HILL: Advertising Age, Fast Company, Adweek, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Campaign, The Drum

SEARS: What’s your favorite commercial of all time?

HILL: Cadbury Gorilla -- it’s just pure joy.

(Pictured above, left to right: Nancy Hill, President and CEO of the 4As appeared with Jay Sears of Rubicon Project and Brian Wieser of Pivotal Research at the 4th Annual Automated Advertising Panel at Cannes in June 2016.)

SEARS: Describe your membership.

HILL: We have over 800 members across the country, serving close to 1,200 offices. That represents close to 200,000 individuals. They range in size from five people to tens of thousands. About 60% of our members are independent and 40% are part of a holding company. Our membership either creates or buys 80% of the advertising in the U.S.

SEARS: With regards to major impacts to your membership, what are the three biggest trends in 2016 and 2017?


  1. Many advertisers moving to project-based arrangements with their agencies. This can work, but compensation and conflicts are having to be redefined and agencies have to figure out how to predict revenue.
  2. Keeping talent in the agency. We are a very attractive industry and have no lack of entry-level employees, but the compensation (see No. 1 for clients’ role here) is very low and we struggle to keep people engaged and committed.  Lack of diversity plays a role here, too.
  3. Trust between clients and agencies needs to be rebuilt. Agencies generally do the right thing, but more open conversations about business structures and investment arrangements need to be had regularly as the business is constantly changing.

SEARS: With specific regards to advertising spend, what are the three biggest trends in 2016 and 2017?


  1. Multi-platform buys continue to proliferate. Publishers with online and offline properties have figured out how best to bundle.
  2. Video/TV/Streaming is still king, but fragmentation means less per outlet.
  3. The digital ecosystem is still not where it should be with regard to measurement and standards. We are working on this with the ANA and the IAB, but we have a long way to go and advertisers and agencies remain wary.

SEARS: Describe your trade association and then tell us your top three initiatives overall.

HILL: We are a very member-driven organization. We provide leadership, guidance and advocacy for the advertising agency community. We strive to be their partner for business.

  1. Talent, talent, talent. How to attract it, grow it, retain it and deliver on the increasing demands of clients for the make up of personnel to reflect our diverse society.
  2. Business Guidance. This area ranges from best practices in negotiation with procurement to legal guidance on patent infringement to new business strategies. It runs the gamut.
  3. Cross industry collaboration on ad blocking, measurement, privacy/data collection and ad fraud.

SEARS: How many employees does your association have?

HILL: 90

SEARS: What is your annual operating budget?

HILL: $19 million

SEARS: Where is your headquarters?

HILL: New York City

SEARS: Advertising automation -- and data-driven advertising -- continues to be a surging force. It promises unprecedented control, but not all supply chain participants [consumers, media owners, agencies, advertisers] feel in control. Is this simply the result of an emerging, fast changing dynamic market? If not, what is missing?

HILL: I think it happened very quickly and no one was equipped to embrace it from either a technology or talent standpoint. None of us were data wonks in previous lives, but we’ve had to teach ourselves. I believe the more we can educate the better off we will all be. We have many webinars focused on just this issue.

SEARS: Transparency -- on media costs, on data, on inventory -- continues to be a lightning rod issue. Should transparency be a negotiated benefit for the advertiser client, yes or no?

HILL: We continue to advocate for transparency between client and agency. Trust has to be at the core of the relationship or it just won’t work. That said, we believe that agencies have a right to operate in a so-called “non-transparent” business practice if and only if it is very clearly explained to the client and they opt-in. This is between the two parties to come to a mutual agreement.

SEARS: Please answer the following statements yes or no.


SEARS: If you had your own TV talk show, what would you name it?

HILL: Plan B. Always have one.

SEARS: What annual conference -- not run by your own association -- do you enjoy attending the most?

HILL: 3% Conference 

SEARS: What is your favorite restaurant in the world?

HILL: DOM, Sao Paolo

SEARS: Thanks, Nancy!

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