Ad Week in NYC: A recruiter’s take

As I step on the 6:45 a.m. Porter Airlines flight to New York, the anticipation and excitement of the 8th annual Advertising Week conference has me looking for a complimentary Steam Whistle beverage to toast the occasion. I opt for a coffee and biscotti. With a short flight to Newark, a $12 train ride to […]

Microsoft Advertising's TV on the Radio show at Ad Week. (Image courtesy of Microsoft Advertising)

As I step on the 6:45 a.m. Porter Airlines flight to New York, the anticipation and excitement of the 8th annual Advertising Week conference has me looking for a complimentary Steam Whistle beverage to toast the occasion. I opt for a coffee and biscotti. With a short flight to Newark, a $12 train ride to Penn Station and le voila we are in the Big Apple.

I arrive to the sounds of incessant honking yellow cabs and bustling street vendors selling anything and everything – fresh fruits, Mexican burritos, Chinese noodles and some sort of Jamaican morning stir-fry that is being made curbside by a man with only a few teeth but an inviting smile.

New York is the city everyone I know wants to live in for a few years and then move back to Canada.  Many candidates I interview ask about digital and advertising jobs in New York and for good reason. New York is the centre of the advertising world. Speaking to Canadians who work in New York say if you are not doing business in New York you are still in the minor leagues.  Not that the minors are bad but the big deals and global advertising opportunities start right here on Madison Avenue.

After doing some research there seems to be a lot of activity these days with firms vying for Madison Avenue ad dollars with several big Internet companies setting up offices here. Twitter just opened the first east-coast office and head quarters at 340 Madison Avenue on October 6th, taking over the FaceBook office which moved down the street to 355 Madison Avenue. Yahoo unveiled it’s newly designed offices in Viacom’s Times Square just prior to Advertising Week, while Google’s $1.4-billion purchase of 111 Eighth Avenue was the city’s largest office transaction of the year. No wonder rent is so expensive. How can anyone compete with Google? But imagine the money and influence behind the walls of the Madison Avenue boardrooms.

Advertising Week is renowned for bringing together the leaders and innovators in the Advertising community from around the world.  Okay, perhaps just from around North America or more accurately Madison Avenue, but at least it seemed the big agency and brand executives from Coca-Cola, AT&T, GE, Delta Airlines, JWT, Ogilvy, TBWA, RG/A, Google, FaceBook, Twitter, MTV, Time, Fast Company, are all here. After a few days here are some of my impressions.

DAY 1: Slow start but worth the trip

At the start, the conference seems quite disorganized with almost every sessions running late which delayed the other sessions like a bad day at LaGuardia.

Another surprise and disappointment was the lack of wi-fi access in any of conference locations. It left us all “handcuffed from the outside world” (as one young student put it) not to mention killing any ability to interact with speakers and the conference community. There were no big screens posting Twitter feeds or any moderation of e-mail or Twitter comments from the audience at all. Surely someone from the Ad Week committee attended SXSW?  How could they miss such an incredible opportunity and better yet an understanding of what their customers needed?

With so much talk at this year’s conference around content curation and building online communities you would think AdWeek would be practicing what it preached. This was a big no-no and I hope to never attend an advertising or marketing conference that is not leveraging the power of the community.  The good news is that the conference did video tape all of the sessions and Marketing Magazine has them posted here.

With a quick glance from some of the key topics you can see very quickly that this AdWeek conference is all about content creation.

Even the cover of Ad Age distributed at the event features a massive content focus with the cover line that “content is king.”

The theme Ad Week was all about these three words and the impact they are having with brands and consumers in the digital and social media age.

Content Marketing: The Foundation to Branding Online

  • It’s about creating brand stories over sexy banner ads
  • Think journalism, not advertising
  • Content is marketing
  • The future of journalism is not sitting at the editor’s desk of the Wall Street Journal or any major media company, but in the chief content officer’s office amidst the writers and journalists working for Fortune 500 brands and ad agencies everywhere
  • If you do not have a compelling story, you are not a brand

Below is a wonderful drawing from the content-marketing session presented by Outbrain. The illustrator drew this while the panelists discussed the topics and presented a really neat visual interpretation of the discussion below.

Joe Puluzzi, founder of the Content Marketing Institute led much of the discussion on the rise of content marketing practices in major brand marketing departments of the world. Puluzzi recently launched Chief Content Officer magazine, currently in beta. I bet this is just the beginning and we will see many chief content officers hired across global brand marketing departments in the future.

I have always commented that journalists and copywriters have the upper hand when it comes to the online communication. If you are a good writer, well get writing a blog to communicate your opinions and points of view. It will be the quickest way to marketing yourself and your online brand.

My Oprah A-Ha Moment

With all the talk of storytelling and content creation at Advertising Week, there is still a lack of firm understanding of what and how context play a role and presents the biggest challenge brand marketers face. It’s easy to say that content is king and it would seem somewhat to produce good content. Yet the internet and social media world requires marketers to feed content to a disparate and constantly changing group of consumers, to engage with them in a meaningful way, at any given moment. In my opinion, the real challenge is knowing what content to serve, to whom and when. The web has turned content on its head—it’s no longer about just creating good content but when and how you deliver it. And to whom.

Without paying attention to your online audiences needs, wants and desires, even your best content will be dismissed.

Another notable session—“Context/Content/Co-Creation,” presented by Socialistic (Colleen DeCourcy’s new venture backed by Havas) featured Vice magazine co-founder Gavin McInnes whose comedic antics and storytelling on “viral comedy” left me crying with laughter. Here is a taste of Gavin’s performance.  After listening to a few agency and corporate self promoting panelists this was a breath of fresh air.

On a more serious note Paul Lavoie, chairman and founder of Taxi Advertising spoke about his new book called Doubt. This inspiring chat gave young ad execs good reason to question and doubt everything—to not listen to the little voice called doubt that surrounds every entrepreneur and creative rainmaker from achieving their full potential. His comments and chapter called “Make No your Bitch” was equally as poignant.

Fast Company wrote an excellent overview of Doubt here.

In Summary

After three days and non-stop activities and events, Advertising Week 2011 was a worthwhile event and I am happy I attended—not necessarily because the conference “content” was at such a high level, but because the discussions I had with other attendees and speakers left me inspired with a new point of view and ideas to share back home.

Ari Aronson is the Founder & Executive Recruiter of Ari Agency, a boutique recruitment firm that specializes in the advertising, digital marketing, social media and technology space. Reach him at or @AriAgency

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