Looking Back to 1st Gathering

Mar 2, 2008  •  Post A Comment

TelevisionWeek: Well, Burtch, you’ll be able to see everyone down at the 4A’s media conference in Orlando once more before you retire.
Burtch Drake: It’s funny, I wasn’t even going to come to this one. As you know, my replacement is essentially in place. But I think I might sneak down there for a couple of days anyhow, just to see my last one.
TVWeek: Many of us remember the first 4A’s media conference, back in 1994, when about 300 people showed up. It’s just amazing how this conference has grown and what you’ve done to help that happen. Could you tell us what you thought about media when you first started your tenure as president and CEO of the 4A’s in 1994, and how that evolved?
Mr. Drake: Absolutely. I should state that I actually spent the first five years of my agency career on the media side. I was at Dancer Fitzgerald Sample first as a media estimator, then a media buyer and a media planner and then a media supervisor.
We had a great media department at that time, so I had a very strong background in media before I moved into account work and eventually ran a bunch of agencies. But I’ve always had a warm spot, if you will, for the media side of the business and always thought it was somewhat unappreciated.
TVWeek: How was it underappreciated?
Mr. Drake: They were always cut short in new-business presentations and they weren’t paid that well and I never thought back in those days that that part of the industry had the respect it deserved. So fast-forward 28 years later and I joined the 4A’s and there was a woman on staff here by the name of Beverley Plyer, who was responsible in the same way that Donna Campbell is today for all of our media committees. And in those days we didn’t have that many. I think we’ve got 25 of them now, but in those days we might have had five or six. So she was responsible for the media function and I was talking to her and she put the bee in my bonnet very early on when I joined about that: “Gee, the 4A’s really ought to do something in the media area in the way of a conference, particularly for our small and midsize agencies.” I went to what was called the media policy committee, which was basically all the media directors at the largest, most prestigious agencies, and suggested that we do such a conference.
TVWeek: And what did they say?
Mr. Drake: Well, at that time the 4A’s only had one national conference a year. And it was at the Greenbrier [in West Virginia] and it was for all the CEOs of the business. In its heyday it attracted 800, 900 people. And the media attended that in droves. The Chicago Tribune. The New York Times. Tom Hanks would fly a jet plane down, because everybody wanted to talk to the CEOs about media, not knowing that they never bought a page in their life. But they liked to party. So I broached the idea to the then media policy committee and they all kind of pooh-poohed the idea. And they said, “Why the hell do we need a media conference? You know we know everything there is to know about media. We know everybody.”
And that was basically the attitude.
TVWeek: And that was before there were media agencies, right, except for maybe Televest.
Mr. Drake: Right. They were still media departments within creative agencies, and they said we really don’t need this, but if you think it would be useful for our small and midsize members, why don’t you go ahead and try it. And that’s what happened.
TVWeek: What do you remember of that first media conference in 1994?
Mr. Drake: Well, I dug out the program on it. I’m looking at the program and so many of these names are no longer in the business. But Larry Cole was the presiding host of the thing, because he was chairman of the 4A’s Media Policy Committee. And we had somebody who is interactive editor at large from Ad Age actually, Valerie Mackey.
We did a panel and Allen Banks from Saatchi presided over a session on “Retail Client Media Needs of the Future.” And then we had some breakouts. Bob Cooperman from Chiat/Day spoke about their virtual agency. Rich Alcott from Lord Dentsu & Partners spoke. There are a whole bunch of names here. Rich Hamilton spoke on media services and perspective for the ’90s and beyond—and that’s when Rich was at D’Arcy. Let’s see, who else? Charlie Rutman, who was at Bates, and Mike Lotito, who was at Ammirati. Then I see Mike Drexler, who was at BJK&E, who spoke about the traditional media department as a dinosaur. Marc Guild spoke from Interep about spot buying, today and tomorrow. Joel Kushins, who was then the media director of Bozell, spoke, as did Mike Moore, who was the worldwide media director at DMB&B.
TVWeek: So were you encouraged by that first meeting?
Mr. Drake: Yeah, we definitely knew we had a winner. Although the turnout from the large agencies was somewhat thin, the small to midsize agencies thought this thing was great. And I’m trying to remember—yeah, we had a trade show with it too, and that was a real experiment, as we’d never had a trade show at any of our conferences before.
And then it just took off from there. I think the big boys quickly realized that one, the press was really interested in this, and two, the speakers were getting a lot of press attention. So the next year, all of a sudden they were all clambering for speaker spots, they wanted to be on the panels. It’s grown virtually every single year since, even without a break in 2001, 2002, when we had the terrible recession—we still had a pretty good turnout. I don’t honestly know what the forecast is for this year, I’m sure it will be at least what it was last year and perhaps even higher.
TVWeek: As I recall, attendance quickly surpassed the regular non-media annual conference the 4A’s has with its agencies.
Mr. Drake: Oh yeah, it’s way past. That meeting was never more than 900, I think, but this thing is pushing 1,600. And of course what happened is that all the media people stopped going to the 4A’s annual meeting and migrated to this 4A’s media conference because they realized, hey, the media people actually buy the media. And so we kind of took it out of one pocket and put it in the other.
TVWeek: Considering the success of the media conference, any regrets?
Mr. Drake: I think the biggest disappointment I’ve had year in and year out was that the [major broadcast] networks never really got behind this as much as I hoped they would. I would say that one exception has been Jon Nesvig and the guys from Fox, who have been great. I don’t think he’s missed one. And to a lesser extent, ABC is participating, but they put all their chips into the upfront.
TVWeek: Why do you think the big broadcast networks haven’t really supported the conference?
Mr. Drake: Well, the upfront is a big investment for them, and it’s a couple of months after we do this conference, and they’ve just never seemed to really support the conference in the way that I thought they should.
TVWeek: One of your partners in this conference is the Association of National Advertisers. How has that partnership been working?
Mr. Drake: It’s been very good. We’ve actually partnered with them three or four years in a row where we offered a special rate to their members, in return for their marketing this conference to their members. And then we in turn kick back a portion of the registration fee, so there’s been something monetarily in it for the ANA. As for attendance of advertisers, it’s been a little disappointing. I figured that since a lot of the large advertisers have media departments that are every bit as smart and sophisticated as what some agencies have, that they were a real target for us. But, for whatever reason, we never really have cracked that community. I think out of the 1,600 people expected this year, maybe 100 are advertisers.
TVWeek: That’s interesting. I think the perception a lot of us have is that you’ve attracted a good number of advertisers to this conference.
Mr. Drake: We’ve had them as speakers, but not as many signed up as attendees as I would have hoped. And I think this conference delivers as much value for a guy working in the media department of an Anheuser-Busch as there is for an agency person.
TVWeek: Absolutely. And you’ve had a great relationship with Chris Rohr and the Television Bureau of Advertising.
Mr. Drake: Yeah, they’ve been actually involved from day one. That goes all the way back to Ave Butensky, who ran TVB back then. He was one of our very first and earliest partners. And the TVB and their station members have seen value in it year in, year out. Others have come and gone as the businesses have changed so dramatically. Now you go to any conference and who are the sponsors? Yahoo, AOL, Microsoft and Google.
TVWeek: Burtch, one of the questions that’s been debated in the last few years is that perhaps media needs to be rebundled back into the creative shops. How do you feel about that?
Mr. Drake: It’s a difficult one. I know why media broke apart. Media people weren’t as well paid as they should have been. They didn’t have the stature and recognition that they should have had. We on the media side were always kind of second-class citizens, so I understand the motivation for them going off their own way. And media has become so important in the scheme of things. I’ve never had a big problem with buying being separated.
But I’ve had a real problem with the planning being separated. I personally feel that that should be with the creative agency. But that’s a very personal opinion that Jack Klues of Publicis and a lot of others don’t agree with. And I’m not sure that genie will ever go back in the bottle.
But there are a lot of agencies that in some way, shape or form will let planning back in. I think Ogilvy’s done this on some occasions, though they’re never going to replicate what they had before. And a lot of new agencies are forming who are obviously keeping it in-house. And there are a lot of great agencies that never let it go away. Goodby is one, and Cramer-Krasselt, and some of the midsize agencies never let the media get away from them.
TVWeek: Let me turn to the personal for the last question. What will we see you doing when you formally leave the 4A’s at the end of the month?
Mr. Drake: Retirement. That’s it. I’ve got to work on my tennis game. I play a lot of racket sports and I look to playing more tennis and a little bit more golf. I’m not a big golf fan, but I do play. We bought a house in Arizona and we’re going to be moving out there for the winters and we’ll keep the place that we have in Long Island in the summers.
TVWeek: Congratulations and we wish you the best.
Mr. Drake: OK. Thanks for the interview.


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