I attended this year’s ANA Masters of Marketing as a newcomer to the much-hyped annual event. I had high expectations (and a fair amount of skepticism) for the networking, ideas from brand leaders I could take back to my agency and golfing in the sun to spark unrehearsed conversation.

While industry heavy hitters graced the stage, I didn’t leave feeling inspired or armed with a lot of new ways of thinking. In fact, I often felt frustrated. Here’s why:

  1. Diversity is not casting. To many at the conference, diversity felt like a checkmark approach. Simply cast a diverse group and mission accomplished. A superficial solution at best that misses both the point and opportunity. The observation reinforced to me how far our industry has to go to truly represent the spirit and opportunity of diversity and to realistically represent new and different voices that reflect the world we live in.
  2. Data is strategic not strategy. In this forum, data wasn’t considered as organic at all … just numbers they seem to follow like fish downstream. There were no real insights shared, just a lot of data pontification. True marketing power and impact comes from a combination of real powerful data AND real life experience.
  3. Brands sure do rely on agencies yet are slow to credit them. This was the year of the hotly debated in-house versus agency discussion. We should never devalue or denigrate what in-house agencies can do—they have great value. But outside agencies with a broader perspective of and appreciation for empathy and creativity have never been needed more.

Overall, the presentations were hit or miss. Put me on stage for next year or lose me forever. I will share the agency models that (without throwing stones) identify the value outside agencies have over in-house shops, how diversity should be with defined and used and how powerful data becomes even more powerful when it is humanized.

Steve Connelly

President and Copywriter