Innovating, recruiting, training: Why agencies are at the 4A's

As executives from the agency world descend on Miami for the American Association of Advertising Agencies’ annual “Transformation” conference, we asked attendees and speakers what they’re hoping to get out it. Their answers, lightly edited for clarity.

Jeff Goodby, co-founder, Goodby Silverstein & Partners
One of the sad facts about our business is that boldness scares some clients away. With so many agency and consultant choices out there, there is almost always someone who will offer something comfortable and happy instead. Let’s put our hands together this week and swear to a new bravery and sparkle so that no matter where a client might turn, they will find a company of people doing their best to make a real provocative difference. Pinky swear right now.

Marie-Claire Barker, global chief talent officer, MEC
All industries are talking about the talent crisis. I would like the leaders of our industry to get together and collectively agree on how we build a compelling and authentic talent brand that will appeal to technologists, data analysts, and people who have never considered our industry. We need to broaden the scope of our talent and perspectives. And, how do we get better at growing great leaders that are the envy of other industries. Not just because they are creative or have great client relationships, but because they are values driven, focused on talent, and inspire those around them to want to be better.

Patrick Kelly, managing director, barrettSF
Our biggest challenge and what I’d love to learn more about is employee training for small agencies. When you have a smaller shop everyone needs to be a “doer” which makes it challenging to have the layers in place and the time for training. We also believe in allowing people to stretch across departments so it would be great to hear how account people could learn more about production or planners more about media for example. Also, I want to know how best to turn project work into longer term partnerships with clients. We have grown well in the last three years but need to make our next jump and I think it would be interesting to hear how to position the benefits of a more retained model.

Jon Cook, global CEO, VML
The industry has, for too long, been focused on labeling agencies as traditional or digital. I’m hopeful the 4A’s Conference will focus on the true narrative, which is centered on great storytelling, amazing ideas, and reaching people at the right time. The contemporary marketing agency is a strategic partner who helps clients transform their businesses across a broad range of marketing and product initiatives and activates relevant industry partners.

Frances Webster, co-founder, Walrus
I’d like to see meaningful and productive discussion about how the advertising industry can be just as innovative — and ultimately relevant — as Silicon Valley. With that in mind, I’m looking forward to sessions on risk taking and creativity, which are critical to making Madison Avenue more innovative and successful in the long run. Coming out of the conference, I’m hoping the industry as a whole will feel inspired to take more chances and deviate away from the status quo.

Wendy Clark, North America CEO, DDB
The pressing dialogue will be around the pace of change and the corollary impacts to our industry; about the ongoing drumbeat for increased efficiency; about how we must be restless and focused on changing the face of diversity and inclusion in our industry; and about our enduring ambitions and need to create great, business-impacting work. If I had a single wish it would be that we not wait for conferences to have these important dialogues, rather that we seek each other out, every day, every week, and join together to make progress.

Lee Newman, CEO, Mullen Lowe U.S.
It will be nice to get a little sunshine, taste a decent bagel, and reconnect with old friends and maybe recruit one or two of them to Mullen Lowe. We’re in a particularly active hiring mode right now, so I’m going to be focused on what people have to say about talent.