US Ad Executives Upbeat Despite War Threat

10 March 2003

Perhaps it is the perennial Mardi Gras ambience of New Orleans, but the seemingly imminent US war on Iraq failed to dampen a mood of cautious optimism at the American Association of Advertising Agencies' 10th annual junket, dubbed Media in a Time of Change.

Around one thousand advertising executives from both sides of the client/agency fence gathered for the opening ceremony on Thursday, at which 4A’s president/ceo O Burtch Drake epitomized the general air of confidence. “There is a general feeling among many in our business that things are improving, and if not dramatically in 2003 then certainly in 2004,” he said.

Drake also shrugged-off perceived threats to traditional advertising from within the media arena, citing two books: The End of Advertising, by Sergio Zyman; and The Fall of Advertising and the Rise of PR, by Al Ries and Laura Ries.

“While both books raise valid points ... they each contain what I consider to be a fundamental flaw,” Drake opined. “Paid media advertising, television, radio, outdoor or the internet remains the essential element of virtually every marketing campaign.”

He also dismissed the ad-zapping function of the TiVo video-recording system as a paper tiger. “The fundamentals are not about to go away anytime soon,” he said, telling the delegates what they wanted to hear.

“The agency business did not become an $18 billion business in revenue in the US by failing to provide marketers with smart and bona fide strategic counsel and effective marketing communications solutions ... Paid media advertising is going to be with us for a long, long time, and it will continue to be effective for a long, long time.”

Drake’s drum stirred Starcom Worldwide’s North America ceo Renetta McCann to similar oratory: “The sky is not falling,” she reassured. “Paid media is here to stay. The news heralding the death of the upfront has been greatly exaggerated. And 'Madison and Vine' [product placement] could simply go the way of the dotcoms and the 10,000-point stock market.”

And words that will undoubtedly comfort the families of US and British servicemen about to risk their lives came from the unlikely lips of multi-multimillionaire publisher Steve Forbes, president-ceo of Forbes Inc.

The one-time Republican presidential wannabe and alleged draft-dodger told delegates: “Once we get through this thing, which will be a fast war, just two weeks, the economy will come back strong.”

Meanwhile, back in the less gung-ho world of advertising, the 4A’s media policy committee announced a new initiative that will create a code of conduct and formal procedures to address media verification discrepancies. Under the microscope are inconsistencies between advertising schedules in actuality and the amount on invoices billed by the media company.

The AAAA, together with accountants Ernst & Young, has established “the groundwork for a media verification audit” that will gauge discrepancies between schedules and invoices. The system, intended to create permanent guidelines for media owners and agencies, will be overseen by a group led by Charlie Rutman, president of Carat North America.

Data sourced from:; additional content by WARC staff