Friday, December 3, 2010

You had to Be There

On Tuesday I tweeted my presence at the Ad Age ME Conference. I received a swift message back asking “Why are you there?” I looked around me and realized that, unlike most conferences that I attend, I didn’t know everyone there. The conference was packed with enthusiastic attendees but why weren’t my comrades in post, vfx and animation in attendance? And I didn’t spot a whole load of agencies or production companies there either, aside from one or two familiar faces.

My first reaction was that I must be at the wrong conference; swiftly followed by a feeling of excitement. I have spent many hundreds of dollars on conferences at which I see a familiar group speakers telling me how difficult it is to survive in the industry. I don’t want to spend any more money listening to this message. What I want to do is find out what our clients want and find ways in which we can be relevant to their needs.

And here I was.

With an agenda stuffed full of people who are responsible for the strategies and marketing of their brands, people who are making choices about where their brand is going to place their messages and how they were going to use existing and emerging technologies to do this. And where were these people from? GE, ESPN, Kraft, NY Times, Coca-Cola. Nick Brien, Chairman, Chief Executive Officer, McCann Worldgroup, was there to tell us how his agency needs to evolve to meet these needs.

I was thrilled to find myself exactly at the place I want to be and astonished that my competitors were not there as well.

I have been talking – and blogging – for a long time about how we are trying to evolve, how the traditional model has changed and how we need to collaborate. All of these messages kept coming back to me through the speakers; they were telling me how they had evolved their media strategy and where they were headed in the future. Of course, as George Bodenheimer, President of ESPN repeatedly said, they “don’t know” what the future holds. But none of them appeared to be afraid about the fact or about making mistakes in order to progress.

I’m not going to detail all of the talks, but you can find the highlights that were tweeted and retweeted by me and many others while we listened to the talks. One of the most popular was written by my friend and fellow blogger, Charles Day, who tweeted:

New York Times online audience 50 million. Physical circulation 900,000. Understands it’s purpose is news. Not paper.

That is a very astute summary of a company understanding what their business is and how that determines how they develop their business in the future. It was a point re-iterated by George Bodenheimer who claims that ESPN’s strategy is led by one thing: their mission to serve sports fans.

(Actually, Charles’ tweet had been copied and tweeted by someone else– and not credited to him – raising the issue of ownership of ideas and protocol of using new technolgies!)

What has become clear to me time and again is that there is no clarity. There is no longer a linear flow from client to agency to prod co, to post. The roles of agencies, production companies and post-production studios are shifting and workloads are being redistributed. VFX and animation studios are moving from vendor to collaborator and, as a result, we can no longer sit out of the conversation about the evolution of media. The brands that we want to work with, and who we can now work directly with instead of going through an agency, are becoming content creators. If we want to work with these content creating brands we need to become part of the media discussion.

The lines are everywhere and, as confusing as that could be, it also means that there are so many more opportunities for us to get involved and produce some exciting content.