A first-timer's perspective on the ANA Masters of Marketing

Marketers demonstrated the power of creativity, but the event could have benefited from more agency participation to probe what unites and divides, writes BBDO's CEO of the Americas.

I am relatively new to the US and completely new to the ANA, having spent my previous 10 years abroad as CEO, BBDO Asia. So whatever impressions I took away from this year’s "Masters of Marketing" are completely raw and unfiltered, given I have nothing to compare them to.

That said, whatever conference I attend, I have certain measures I use as to whether it is worth attending (let alone, attend again). Among them: Is the content stimulating and additive to what I could read in a trade mag or a Harvard Business Review article? Am I going to leave with something actionable? Are there opportunities to nurture existing relationships and build new ones? Is it easy and efficient to get to? And will it be fun and interesting?

Well, as a non-voter in the US elections, it is certainly interesting to watch your political system firsthand. And having the pleasure to be hosted by the New York Times for the final debate smackdown was fascinating; made even more interesting by getting a firsthand perspective from Mark Leibovich, chief national correspondent for the New York Times Magazine. Seeing the Backstreet Boys play on their home Orlando turf was also fun. So check that box.

The conference content was both stimulating and actionable. Although somewhat biased, given that BBDO had four clients speaking, I was really impressed by the overall breadth of the content.  And there has definitely been a PowerPoint slide arms race over the years—to produce not just the best presentations, but the best designed.

I was lucky to sit with Bob Liodice, the CEO of the ANA at dinner, and our conversation made me realize the breadth and depth of the association’s activities. If all of its events are of this quality, they are breeding "Masters of Marketing" across the country.

The creative canvas, content is crap, purpose-led marketing, the power of unifying data prowess with digital agility, ambidextrous marketing and the reinvention of brands were all actionable topics.

It is completely right that it is the marketers who are front and center at this event. But I thought it would have been good to have had at least one panel or presentation from advertising industry heavyweights, exploring what both unites and causes division between clients and agencies. There was one media agency presentation but it seemed heavier on assertion and lighter on details. And there is certainly time for some policy detail.

In the end (or actually, the beginning), it was P&G’s Marc Pritchard who explicitly made the case for creativity and the need for reconciliation and stronger partnerships with agencies that are "full of good people who want to do great work." But to their credit, all of the marketers who appeared on stage went to great lengths to demonstrate the power of creativity in their cases and businesses.

Against my criteria, I will be back. And it will be interesting to compare observations from my second "Masters of Marketing" conference to my first.

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