Advertising Week 2011: How to Prevent the Future

The advertising industry spins the plates again during the annual event.

July 8, 2011, 5:42 PM

Oct. 7, 2011— -- In the 1993 movie Groundhog Day, Bill Murray stars as Phil Connors, a self-centered TV personality who somehow finds himself stuck in Groundhog Day and forced to re-live the day over and over. He tries everything he can to get past Feb. 2 to no avail.

Finally, he is able to move forward after being prompted by Rita (the lovely Andie MacDowell) to improve himself. He does that by becoming aware of his environment, the people around him and is ultimately able to get time started again by ridding himself of his selfish tendencies and integrating himself positively into the community.

Similarly, advertising has been on a hamster wheel facing the same issues for a number of years and has tried pretty much everything short of making the real changes necessary to transform into an industry that can better serve itself and the community at large. It is only by doing this that it will ultimately raise the stature and importance of the business to the business community at large.

One of the principal attributes of ego is to become angry at criticism. Unfortunately, the only way to grow is to be able to accept informed admonishment and make the necessary behavioral adjustments to erase or diminish the shortcoming.

I love the advertising industry. It has been the passion of my adulthood and my only profession. From my vantage point as recent past chair of the 4As New York Council, a Director of Advertising Week and experience within a large international holding company as a senior level executive, I've been able to observe the individual and corporate behaviors that characterize the business of advertising.

So as I sit in darkened auditoriums watching speaker after speaker and panelist after panelist espouse narrow and self-serving perspectives on the business and the business of the business, I thought the most valuable role I could play would be that of Rita in Groundhog Day sharing with the industry that I love how it might deal with its major issues, initiative real change, grow and prosper.

Advertising Week, an annual gathering of marketing and communications professionals, is outwardly impressive, well-staged, well-managed, big and by most accounts wonderful. It might also not be what is needed. The problems, as I see them, are: role, perspective and purpose. (Everyone who thought I was going to say race, move to the back of the line).

More than one historian has said that the failure of the railroad industry to understand it was in the transportation business kept it from prospering as the world changed. For more than 50 years no other mode of transportation challenged the dominance of the railroad industry. The industry's deep investment in technology and product development, from steam to locomotive to electronics was no match for cars, buses, trucks, planes and pipelines. As an industry, we must realize we are in the business of creative strategy and communication—whatever form that takes—and be willing to let go of anything and anyone that doesn't allow us to move at the pace of change.

If we understand our true role is that of expert creative strategist and communications advice and production and keep the perspective broad enough to cover the territory, we will naturally hire the diversity needed to truly own the space and envelope all of the disciplines necessary to be effective.

That leaves us with purpose. I am continually amazed by how many advertising agencies attempt to create long-lasting, robust enterprises without ever developing meaningful statements of purpose. The stages of Advertising Week seem full of preening peacocks. From the perspective of the marketers and their advertising agencies, everyone is adapting, moving forward, conquering their demons and leading the way out of the recession. Interesting thing about peacocks is they can only fly short distances, shed those beautiful feathers every year and spend most of their time on the ground foraging for food. We need to work more closely together for the benefit of the industry, share more usable information, tackle the major problems in concert and grade ourselves objectively and stringently.

I would like to see an advertising week that is two sessions: a three-day fall session and a three-day summer session. The fall session would be closed to industry outsiders as the industry and expert facilitators bring the best industry minds to focus on the real issues and develop objectives and action items. The early summer session would be presentations, grading and a celebration of goals met.

I don't know about anyone else but I'm not interested in attending the same event every year anymore. I'd like to move forward.

This work is the opinion of the columnist and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.

Larry Woodard is a director on the Advertising Week board and chairman of the American Association of Advertising Agencies' New York Council.

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