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[Transformation 2010] Transformation of the 4A's, Nancy Hill 

Welcome back.

I’m told that we need to keep a close eye on time—so that we don’t run afoul of union overtime rules with the production crew—so I’ll keep my remarks brief.

As I was considering what to say to all of you today about the transformation of the 4A’s, I thought about a comment made by a unique 21st century visionary: “The crisis,” he said, “is the time when one should create new ways of doing things … and put even the most basic things into question.”

That visionary is Jean Paul Gaultier.

Now, I’m not endorsing the idea of taking our business cues from the pages of Vogue magazine—although, truth be told, there are a lot of smart ideas to glean from those oh-so fashionable pages, more than what’s hot in the September issue.

Advertising, like fashion—after all—is a business of big ideas, and there’s something to be said about listening to the words and wisdom of creative people from beyond the worlds of advertising. And advertising, like fashion, is a business about desire: creating desire where once there was none, and redirecting desire for something that’s newer, faster, bigger, greater, better.

Indeed, as in fashion, 2009 was a year of crisis for many us in the ad business, and more than ever before, it was the perfect time to put into question even the most basic things, as Monsieur Gaultier suggests. What did we have to lose? Revenues were down. Readership and viewership were down. And the hard new realities of a global economic crisis loomed large for all us.

Why not take some chances? Why not look at the crisis as an opportunity to transform?

I took the helm of the 4A’s during a time of incredible change, and I spent my first year at the association simply trying to right what had been somewhat wrong for a long time. I say this not as a criticism of the hard work of those who preceded me. What I mean is that the business of media and advertising had been rapidly transforming all around us—and that change has been accelerating over the past 20 years.

In many ways the 4A’s was an organization that was simply unprepared to effectively lead in the 20th century, let alone in the 21st century, because we hadn’t—or didn’t have to—call in to question even the most basic things about how we did what we did.

The crisis, then, becomes a watershed, an opportunity to reexamine our most basic beliefs and redefine where we want to go, what we aspire to be, which is much greater and more deeply involved than we had ever been before.

The complexity of our business—fueled in large part by technology and changing financial dynamics—put member agencies in a position where you were desperately seeking a new kind of leadership from your trade association, and I am grateful that I have the opportunity to be part of that leadership change.

Last year, I said that in order for the 4A’s to reclaim its position as the preeminent industry organization for the 21st century, this 93-year-old institution has to stop thinking and acting so institutionally and start thinking and acting more like a startup. This was—and continues to be—a challenge, as much from the outside as it is from within. But over the past two years, the 4A’s has transformed in ways big and small, obvious and subtle.

As I unveiled this morning, the 4A’s now has a new logo to match our new outlook. I don’t know about you, but it has always bothered me that our old logo looked so much like the Triple A logo. See what I’m saying?

The brief for creating the new 4A’s logo was simple: I wanted a brandmark that said 4A’s, not A. A. A. A., not American Association of Advertising Agencies. But simply … 4A’s. And to any lieutenants on the grammar police squad: yes, I know that the apostrophe is not grammatically correct. It is, however, visually correct, as our friends in the East Bay over there understand all to well…

But that’s cosmetic … there also have been some fundamental changes at the association that have dramatically transformed the way that the 4A’s interacts with you and prospects. Last year I reconfigured our entire membership team, bringing on board Jennifer Seidel to lead members services and outreach. In turn, Jen brought on board regional reps, Laurie Stearn in the Midwest and Gregory Walker in the South, to shore up our communications with our members beyond the East and West coasts, so ably handled by Harley Griffiths and Jerry McGee.

Having those boots on the ground, as it were, has been essential to understanding the pain points and regional issues that afflict our members and has transformed the way that we gather intelligence about your needs, and has greatly informed how we construct and deliver the products and services that you really want.

To say that the 4A’s digital platform was somewhat outdated when I arrived is akin to saying that the first manned lunar landing was simply a walk on a pile of rocks. We’ve dedicated much of the past year building and rebuilding the infrastructure of the 4A’s digital platform, including the expansion of our social media products and services; growing our e-learning apparatus; and soon, we’ll relaunch the 4A’s Web site as an essential tool for members and the public at large to interact and communicate more efficiently with us.

The transformation of the 4A’s, however, hasn’t occurred in a vacuum. I deeply understand and truly appreciate the ongoing support from the leadership of our sibling organizations, including Bob Liodice at the ANA and Randy Rothenberg at the IAB, who have been instrumental in pushing us to greater limits and helping to facilitate the critical and necessary dialogue throughout the entire media and marketing ecosystem.

What we have learned—what has become unquestionably clear—is that we can no longer work apart, we must forge ahead together. Not only do we insist on being in the middle of the hot conversations about the transformation of our business, we want to lead those conversations. But we can only achieve this collaboratively. The hot-shot days of the lone ranger are long past.

Together, we will lead the conversations about the critical issues of the day:

  • Convergence of disciplines and thought;
  • Diversity in the industry;
  • Compensation;
  • New business;
  • Media measurement; and
  • Industry regulation.

If I can impart just few ideas about how the 4A’s has truly transformed over the last two years, it’s this:

  • No longer can we tacitly support the out-dated construct of agency, marketer and media silos; we promise to help smash those silos down.
  • No longer will we sit on the sidelines and wait for change to happen to us; we promise to be a key driver of that change.
  • No longer will we be silent and complicit to the failings of logic and reason when it comes to the barriers that have prevented this great industry from genuinely reflecting diversity of race, ideas and experience; we promise to raise the battle ax and help tear down the walls that keep us from the truth.
  • No longer will we let the compensation discussion continue to be a one-way talk; we promise to insert ourselves in the conversation, to lead the talks, and have the voices of agency interests be heard.
  • And no longer will we turn a blind eye to the myriad technological changes in our business that have—and will continue to—transform the way that all of us must now operate our businesses; we promise to be at least on the same cutting-edge—if not the leading-edge—of technology where our constituents exist.

I’m certain that we couldn’t have pulled off—or even have conceived of—a conference like Transformation just two years ago. It’s through the dedication of the 4A’s staff, the engagement of our members—you, our sister organizations, and involvement and feedback from allies and critics alike that have helped pushed us to become the kind of organization that all of our stakeholders want us to be, that we know we can be.

This is only the beginning of our collective Transformation. Let the great work begin.

Thank you.

So here’s my introduction of our next speaker: Last week when we were preparing for this conference, we had a conference call with Stuart Elliott at The New York Times, who was working on a curtain raiser for the paper.

While Tom Carroll, Stuart Elliott and I waited on the conference call line, it beeped and the first thing we heard was a string of expletives. We knew that Chuck Porter had arrived.

Chuck, as you all know, is Chairman of Crispin Porter + Bogusky, and he is also the 4A’s incoming chairman. He’ll serve as the presider for this afternoon’s session. Over to you, Chuck.

Nancy Hill 

Nancy Hill
President and CEO

Transformation 2010

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