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AD:Tech The 10th Annual is Over. What Was In It For Main Street?

Aug 17, 2007
There were over 12,000 individuals from all over the place pre-registered for the conference. The hotel was packed like I haven't seen it since 1999.

On the first floor of the Hilton on 6th Avenue there is a bar with a huge seating area of tables and curved couches. It doesn't open until 5-6 in the evening, during the day people use it as a place to sit while they are waiting for something or just killing time. There are always 2-3 tables in use.

During Ad:Tech every seat was taken - attendees comparing notes and connecting with their contemporaries to discuss ideas they'd just picked up in one session or another or from a vendor in the exhibit hall. You could feel the buzz, the energy!

The press/speaker/blogs room had been relocated to a room three times larger than before - a dead giveaway that this was going to be special.

The event's opening keynote featured the head of the organization Drew Ianni, Chairman, Programming, ad:tech expositions, laying out their blueprint for the future of Ad:Tech as it expands its presence worldwide.

As he illustrated their growth strategy he alluded to the "bad old days" of just a few years ago. I remember attending one of those events - when it had been moved from a gigantic space the previous year and combined with another organization in a much smaller location and the luncheon could still have been held in a Manhattan apartment.

That was on the back-end of the dot com bust and conventional wisdom seemed to give Ad:Tech one more year before it would become a small part of another industry organization. To see the slides describing the strides they've taken and the plans they have in place demonstrates that the original "big idea" has come full circle. That with Ad:Tech as with business and life in general it all comes down to execution of the mission.

The keynote was to be delivered by David Lubars, Chairman and Chief Creative Officer, BBDO North America.

I had not taken the time to read any of the pre-conference materials or promotion so I had no idea who the keynote speaker would be.

When I got to my seat in the second row and saw the name and title on the huge screen I remembered why I always sit up front. It's to keep me from leaving early. Sitting up front means you can't sneak out. Common courtesy keeps me in my place. Invariably I pick up something so I continue the practice.

While Drew was telling us about David - that he had come from Fallon, Minneapolis "where he was responsible for some of most memorable and out-of-the-box advertising campaigns including Citibank's 'Identity Theft' series and BMW Films" - I was looking along the row in front of me trying to figure out which one of the blue suited businessmen has was.

I was familiar with these campaigns, as a TV viewer, so I was interested to see the guy who came up with them but not sure how this would translate to regular people like us.

Drew said that David had come to BBDO and had been charged with bringing a new, progressive way of thinking to an advertising agency once dubbed the "old guard". More interesting.

But still, how would it be possible that someone from this huge ad agency, with clients who spend more on a single campaign than our readers on Main Street generate in annual revenues, have something relevant for people like us?

When Drew introduced David, instead of the staid businessman in a dark blue suit and shiny shoes I was looking for - an energetic guy wearing Dockers, a tee shirt with a long sleeve shirt open down the front and Timberland shoes (I think I recognized the soles) ran up the steps to the stage. I thought he was a audio engineer there to attach the lapel mike to the staid businessman in the dark blue suit and shiny shoes.

Imagine my surprise. This was David Lubars, Chairman and Chief Creative Officer, BBDO North America.

The stage was set up like a TV interview show. Instead of a speech this would be a conversation. What happened was quite interesting and enlightening to, I'm sure, everyone in the room. Each of David's comments were little ah ha's that just made sense. The only thing that threw some people was when he referred to himself as "not being a Darren Stevens type of advertising man."

BTW: For those too young to remember Darren Stevens was the character played by Dick Sargent in the early 70's sitcom, "Bewitched" Darren and his boss Larry Tate were the prototypical gray flannel suited advertising executives of the time. There are still many just like them - their tried and true tactics still work. However, it's being able to see beyond what has worked in the past that make David successful and his ability to bring along their clients into the new world of strategic brand planning in a universe defined by short attention spans, massive media proliferation and where the consumer is increasingly in control.

Drew, using the Barbara Walter interview style, sat down with David "to discuss the new media landscape, the continued power of the television commercial as well as the new opportunities and threats that are emerging thanks, in part, to new digital technologies, platforms and creative tools."

David's comments were reveling. Instead of taking the advice of his friends, to move to LA and start his own interactive boutique agency he decided to join BBDO in NYC - providing us our first ah ha - that it's not about the medium. It's about the message and delivering it in the most logical way.

At BBDO he would be able to work with clients to develop their big idea and with creative people with experience in every medium to work out the most logical way to get that message to their target audience. For him it's not about the technology or medium it's about the message. The medium is just the vehicle.

I his words, "Does it matter whether you use email marketing, forums, bulletin boards, blogs, focus groups, TV ads, online videos, etc.? No. Which method(s) depends on your audience and how you can reach them the easiest."

What impressed me, representing Main Street, was that he was not a zealot for a certain solution, especially requiring a huge budget. His comments focused rather on the importance of having a big idea.

Those of us who are not particularly creative must rely on those who are for help with the insights that flesh out the importance of the big idea and then craft the solution that will, hopefully, make it a household name.

But we're skeptics - since most of these experts see theirs as the solution of choice, and are willing to massage our big picture until it becomes a big picture that their service is uniquely suited to provide. (I'll be telling you about my experiences along this line, when I spent two days in the exhibit hall. But that's another story)

According to David, "When you have the big idea and an open minded team to consider how to make that idea relevant, the method you use to get that message to the right people will just feel logical."

Once example of the big idea being promoted in the right way was so obvious I almost laughed out loud. You see I had witnessed it first hand - like so many others, but because it seemed so natural I dismissed the creativity associated with it.

Last weekend we had friends visiting us from Arizona. We met them at their Times Square hotel and took them to dinner at one of our favorite Italian restaurants, Mezzogiorno, at the corner of Spring and Sullivan Streets in SOHO, one of the cool neighborhoods in NYC everyone has heard about.

The streets are narrow and always bumper to bumper as the cars creep between Broadway and 6th. Ave. The occasional doubledecker bus makes the journey as well, just barely fitting between the cars parked on both sides of the streets.

And there are always lots of people strolling along the sidewalks. It's a combination thriving little mini neighborhood, landmarked historic district, and tourist destination all rolled into one.

One merchant, it's pretty expensive to have your store there, came up with a novel idea for promoting their business during the 12-14 hours a day they are not open - but when people are still going by their front door.

So when David mentioned this advertising strategy as an example of the big idea (for that merchant), one that did not require a Fortune 500 budget, being delivered in a way that just made sense - ah ha. I had just witnessed it. An idea was so simple, so cheap and yet so effective.

You see in most if not all neighborhoods in the City when the stores and restaurants close the last person out pulls down these horribly ugly gray metal grates over the entire front of the place.

Over time people tape pieces of paper with their message on them, about a lost cat or an opportunity to lose weight, or attend an event of some sort - which, when removed, leave the corners of the papers under the tape, or someone with a magic marker or can of spray paint will leave their mark. The owners will typically do nothing, unless it is an objectionable message, assuming that this is the natural order of things.

What we saw as we strolled through the neighborhood with our out of town friends was a merchant who, instead of accepting the way things have always been, used the grate to create an effective "billboard" that cleverly introduces their store to everyone who passes by.

Instead of an unbroken string of gray metal grates that make every store, dry cleaner, restaurant, and shoe repair shop look alike - now in the middle of the block one stands out. As we walked along we saw people look and point to it, one tourist took a digital photo for the folks back home. The point, everyone noticed and some will remember it.

David's message that it's about the idea - the delivery method will emerge based on that - not the
other way round - was perfectly illustrated.

Whether you work for a company with seemingly unlimited resources or are like the rest of us, it's about performance - ROI. It's not about a particular branded solution.

It's about delivering the right message in the right way to the right audience at the right time. A message that makes people want to go out right now and get one for themselves!

David's responses to Drew's well crafted questions - that seemed to have the wide range of the audience in mind, set the stage for the entire event. The question was, would each subsequent session build on that keynote or not? Yep, the keynote was the tipping point for the event.

There were over two dozen break-out sessions during the next 21/2 days and we did our best to cover them. The panels in each session were made up of marque companies like CNN, AOL, and Frito Lay as well as one person entrepreneurs and everything in between. As always there were actionable strategies from every quarter.

We'll be offering observations from those break out sessions we were able to sit in on over the next week or so. Be sure to join the discussion. We'd love insights and observations from you. The RSS feed link is in the Meta area of the nav bar.

In addition we're going to do something we've never attempted before.We're going to contact a select number of exhibitors whose products and services seem to have relevant applications to regular companies, companies spending their own money and not shareholders money, when they develop marketing and advertising strategies.

It will be interesting to see who responds who doesn't - whose services are for people like us and who are interested in telling us about them in a semi non-commercial sort of way.

Stay tuned, add your comments, subscribe to the blog feed - get your trade association to do so as well. You won't want to miss what's coming! I guarantee it.
About the Author
Wayne Messick reports on how Main St. businesses can integrate technology to succeed in the 21st Century on http://www.FamilyBusinessStrategies.com/and his commentary for business coaches and advisors at http://www.wdm.net/blog
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