Marla Kaplowitz shares her takeaways from Advertising Week

The 4A's president and CEO reflects on her first AWNY as head of the agency advocacy organization.

Attending my first Advertising Week as the 4A’s president and CEO required a change in perspective. One of my priorities as I lead the 4A’s into its next century is to ensure that we deliver value for our agency members and address key industry issues. That means continuously listening to what’s on their minds as they grapple with critical topics like future business models and growth, talent, creativity and trust.

Advertising Week provides a unique platform to hear from a range of marketing and communications companies and to listen to what they see as the challenges and opportunities in the current landscape. With Advertising Week now behind me, here are the topics that resonated with me.

"It’s Darwinism. It’s an evolution as much as a revolution. If we don’t change, we’re going to go the way of the dodo." Sean Reardon, CEO, Zenith USA, Moxie and MRY 

As expected, one of the biggest themes during the week centered around figuring out the future. What does it look like? How do we prepare for it? How do we not only survive but also thrive in it? 

The sessions and conversations throughout the week provided great perspective on how to address those questions. Some suggested that agencies should get better at integration and start looking at their competitors as partners. Others asked for a refocus on big, strategic ideas—the area where agencies excel—rather than execution. The common thread connecting these different approaches? Agencies need to be more proactive about shaping the future of the industry. 

We need to shift how we talk about the future: It’s not something that’s happening to us tomorrow; it’s something we can create today. And that means truly understanding that the "agency of the future" requires action to address the evolving needs impacting the media and marketing landscape.  

We plan to spark authentic and meaningful conversation on the "agency of the future" during Accelerate, the new name for our spring conference (formerly known as Transformation). 4A’s Accelerate will offer a more immersive and experiential three days on issues that empower agencies today and influence the agency of the future. 

"The issue of talent is not new. We’ve been battling this issue forever; we’ve talked it to death." — Marc Strachan, EVP, Chief Client Officer, Publicis.Sapient

I experienced palpable frustration from industry insiders who are determined to turn decades of conversation into real-life measurable change.

On a panel masterfully moderated by Keesha Jean-Baptiste, SVP of talent and inclusion at the 4A’s, panelists guided the audience through unique, multilayered insight into how the industry can advance ongoing diversity efforts. 

Marc Strachan, EVP, Chief Client Officer, Publicis.Sapient, called for marketers to incentivize or mandate more diverse teams from its agency partners. God-is Rivera, Director, Inclusion & Cultural Resonance, VML, highlighted what she called an "awareness problem" in diversity communities that don’t understand what advertising is. She suggested we go deeper than building relationships with universities and also build partnerships with communities that can elevate talent. Rivera also made a powerful point about dismantling in-office culture norms that make diverse people with diverse perspectives feel like an "other." 

As Jean-Baptiste builds out a strategic plan for the 4A’s to work side-by-side with our member agencies across all talent fronts, I’m excited to explore how we can rally everyone—from the marketers to the agencies to the communities—to get on board with tackling the industry’s talent challenges. 

"Consumers are hungry for brands to do more than just sell. Brands need to be brave." — Joe Alexander, Chief Creative Officer, The Martin Agency

Many of the conversations onstage this week advanced talks about purpose-driven brands and brands that "do good." The brand stories shared across the stages demonstrated how rich insights can be leveraged to deliver stellar creative expression and execution. 

As marketers continue their quest for the brilliant, creative ideas that can drive their brands’ success, they need to reflect on what it truly takes to get it right. Some clients are asking for their own version of State Street Global Advisors’ brilliant "Fearless Girl" effort, a campaign being held up as not only impacting commerce but also influencing culture and aligning the brand with an important societal issue.

To achieve this, there must be an understanding of the right alchemy that could potentially deliver that level of creativity. Ultimately, it takes a strong client-agency partnership, a clear brief articulating the challenge and an appetite from the client to embrace risk (rather than focusing on how to mitigate it) and to lean into that uncomfortable feeling that often comes with a bold move. 

"Uncomfortable discussions are necessary. We all have the same common goal: the success of the brand." — Peter Nicholson, Chief Creative Officer, Periscope

Trust has become a pressure point in the agency-marketer relationship, and it was certainly a hot topic last week. 

It was great to see agencies and marketers come together for candid conversations about what trust means to them. Panelist after panelist reminded the audiences of the single most important shared goal between agencies and their clients: to grow brands and make them successful. 

One panel on Thursday morning explored mutually respectful agency-client relationships and discussed what each must bring to the partnership: fairness and the shared goal of growth.

As we are in the business of communication, I look forward to facilitating more opportunities for open dialogue within the industry and between agencies and marketers. It’s key to building—or rebuilding—strong partnerships that ultimately lead to business solutions and growth.

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