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2008 Leadership Conference, The President's Report, by Nancy Hill 

Twenty-five years ago, when I started my advertising career at W.B. Doner in Baltimore, never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined that this is where I would be standing today—up on this stage as the newly named head of the AAAA.

Over the course of my career, I’ve been lucky to work at terrific AAAA agencies, and fortunate to live and work in some great cities: Baltimore, Los Angeles, St. Louis, San Francisco, and now, New York.

I’ve worked on consumer packaged goods and technology accounts, in big agencies and small agencies, on local business and multi-national business, using analog and digital media.

I’ve had the great opportunity to work with and to learn from the very best in the business—great thinkers and creatives, one of whom, Lee Clow, you’ll hear from later this morning.

I wouldn’t say I’ve seen it all, but I would say I’ve seen a lot. Not bad for someone from a small town like Warren, Pennsylvania.

Jim Dale, the creative director I first worked with at Doner 25 years ago, used to say, “Advertising is a simple business. Not easy, but simple. Advertising is what we get paid for, but ideas are what we get paid more for. Because ideas always get funded, whether they are in the budget or not, and, because ideas generate energy in a way that advertising alone cannot.”

I’ve never forgotten that bit of wisdom, especially that ideas power this great industry through the energy that it creates. In fact, I’ve spent the past 25 years working with people who generate more energy than it takes to fuel a space shuttle.

Having the privilege each day to tap into this rocket-propelling, nearly inexhaustible source of energy—that’s why I get up every day. In what other business can you get paid to come up with creative ideas that actually solve business problems?

For those of us who live at the exact intersection where left brain meets right brain, the opportunity to use our creative imagination and analytical reasoning each and every day, that’s why we began—and stayed—in advertising.

I love this business and the people in it. I love your brilliance, passion and unique insights and innovations that make advertising so great.

I am a firm believer that advertising is—has always been, will always be—a powerful force of good in our society, a force that makes the world we live in a better place.

Dare I say it, “Advertising is the greatest art form of the 21st century.”

With deference to Marshall McLuhan, who wrote this statement closer to the middle of the last century than to this century, I think we agree that great advertising approaches—and sometimes exceeds—some of the greatest art of our time.

But beyond mere aesthetics, advertising at its finest achieves a rare collision of art and science, a fusion that results in the creation of new energy; enough energy, in fact, to transform hearts and minds, in ways both big and small. Advertising is alchemy, it is a kind of magic, and I am grateful to be under its spell.

I won’t stand up here today and tell you everything that the AAAA has contributed to advance the dialogue about this industry, among us, among clients and with the outside world. I will tell you what you can expect from me and from the AAAA in the future…

Since I started this job in February, the question I am asked most frequently is, “What’s your agenda for the Association?”

Let me state for the record: The future of the AAAA isn’t about my agenda—it’s about your agenda.

In spending time with so many AAAA member agency leaders across the country over the past three months, I can report that many of the issues that I faced while I was on the agency side are still with us and don’t seem to be going away anytime soon: Talent recruitment and retention, staff training, diversity, globalization, agency compensation, the digital revolution, the list goes on and on…

The issues are many and have far-reaching implications to our business, but I’d like to focus on a handful of what I think are the most urgent issues, and begin to put a frame around what I envision the AAAA can do to help address our members’ concerns.

Like many of you, I’ve thought a lot about diversity and the ad industry, and I’ve come to realize that part of the problem is the word itself.

For many of you in this room—and the corporate world in general—the word diversity has unfortunately become a loaded term. That’s because the way that businesses frequently view diversity is often—if not always—a mathematical equation to be solved with numbers alone.

Yes, increasing the number of ethnically and racially diverse employees in agencies—particularly African-Americans in the senior ranks—is a critical business imperative for us all. The solution, however, isn’t simply tapping into the same pool of like-minded, like-experienced, like-educated talent, who happen to be ethnically and racially different from the (generally) white establishment.

I believe that in order for us to get past considering only the mathematical equation of diversity, we need to add to the definition of the word to include talent and inclusion.

Diversity of gender, race and ethnicity—the ad industry needs to put these at the top of the list, of course, but we must also embrace diversity of experience, point-of-view, and knowledge.

I’d like to go one step further: True, genuine diversity recognizes the business value of respecting, celebrating and rewarding all of the differences that unique individuals bring to their work, because of and regardless of age, race, gender, sexual orientation, physical ability or life experience.

When—and only when—we have truly embraced these ideals can we ensure that our industry is one that leads in diversity, and not merely follows.

To that end, tomorrow I will announce a major AAAA initiative that will specifically address the dearth of African-American executives in our ranks, and how the AAAA will back our talk with funds to support this initiative.

I believe that by casting a wider, more inclusive net for talent, we’ll tackle two of the greatest challenges our industry faces today—attracting talent and building awareness among the next generation about the rewards and opportunities in advertising.

The students that we should attract to the business are those who—on one end of the spectrum—are considering positions at the McKinseys of the world, and—on the other end—those who are taking jobs at Google, Microsoft and Yahoo!

Just twenty years ago, images of advertising careers played a greater role in the American zeitgeist, and tech and consulting career options weren’t as readily available as they are today.

I’ve actually heard several agency leaders, some of you in this audience, say they would discourage young people from joining our ranks, and that makes me very, very sad.

I admit, the business has changed dramatically in the past 20 years. And yes, the skill sets that are required are different than they were in the past. But that’s what I think is so exciting about the business today.

For those of you running agencies, it’s your job to make advertising the career path of choice for the brightest and most talented people out there.

We are the standard bearers, the main cheerleaders for our great business. And not only because advertising is simply fun or about “ideas,” which of course it is, but because advertising and marketing communications is at the core of all business, because it makes a fundamental impact on the quality of our lives and our economy. And because smart, creative, ambitious people are those who will thrive in this industry.

So then the inevitable question is, how do we train, educate and help to retain our talent to fulfill their potential? I’ve consistently heard that many of your agencies, particularly small and mid-sized shops, have forgone formal staff training because of lack of time, resources or both. This is a gap that the AAAA can and should continue to fill for you.

While I believe that technological innovations in media and the workplace are great, what’s even more important are the people—the talent—who can see through the zeros and the ones, and find innovative ways to solve business problems.

In the coming year, look for AAAA training programs—such as MAIP, the Institutes of Advanced Advertising Studies and more—to move beyond the conference, seminar and classroom settings into Webinars, Webcasts, communities and other online tools.

To that end, we have hired a new director specifically dedicated to AAAA education and inclusion programs.

In addition, the scope of the AAAA’s training programs will be more global because that’s how young people think today, that’s how they were brought up…

I realize that we are the American Association of Advertising Agencies, but you’ve also told me the AAAA can be—should be—much more. Our perspective must be broader and more global in scope. What American agencies do today have tremendous influence and impact on what an agency in Beijing or Sydney or Moscow can and will do tomorrow—and increasingly the reverse is also true.

I expect the AAAA and myself to take an active role in the global conversation about advertising, and hope you will continue to do the same. Our counterparts from around the world need and want to interact with us, and there are many tools today that can make that exchange of ideas happen more easily…

Which leads me to my next point:

Like many of you, I am excited about the digital revolution as a business person because I am excited about it as a consumer.

Our members have asked for—and deserve—an Association that not only facilitates the discussion about digital, but also uses the technologies that we espouse.

The AAAA will begin to roll out a new digital platform that will serve as our primary communications channel to our members and the outside world. From our new Web site, which launches today, you will see within the next year the introduction of new tools that will enable the AAAA to better communicate with all of you, allow for social and business networking and online collaboration, and establish the AAAA as the digitally savvy Association of the future.

I also believe strongly that the AAAA excels at facilitating conversations between many varied groups. As such, I will continue to work with our sister organizations, including the ANA, IAB and TVB—and many others—to advance the dialogue about marketing communications, among ourselves and with the outside world. Not only do I hope we can continue to build a common vocabulary, but also work together on building a common agenda.

I am extremely optimistic about our future as an industry. There are so many tools at our disposal right now, and so many brilliant, energetic people working in the business. I’m glad you all decided to make it here today.

I hope I get the chance to speak to all of you over the next few days… This is your Association, and you set the agenda. I’m so proud to be able to say that I am president and CEO of the AAAA. I’m ready and I’m listening. So let’s get started.

Nancy Hill 

Nancy Hill

2008 Leadership Conference

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