Some Agency Pitches Likely To Invoke More Terror Than Usual

Next week, the chief executives of five of the biggest media agencies--Carat, Initiative, MediaCom, MPG, and Starcom MediaVest Group--will brief several dozen of the world's leading advertising services consultants in a bid to elevate the reputations of their agency brands, as well as their prospects for new business. The event--the third annual Ad Forum summit--marks the second year that media agencies were invited to the table, as well as a change in the lineup of shops pitching their media credentials. Universal McCann, which presented this year and would seem to be in dire need of raising its new business profile, is out. MediaCom and MPG are in. Carat, Initiative, and SMG are returning.

The presentations, which are part of a weeklong series of meetings--many behind closed doors on the respective agencies' premises--are something of a mini event that would have attracted oodles of attention in a normal year, but coming a week after Madison Avenue's hyper-intensive Advertising Week, seem more like just another round of dog and pony shows. The plan is to make it anything but, says Rob Drasin, vice president of AdForum.com, a Web site that facilitates contact between ad agencies and advertising search consultants.

"What we are doing has never been done before. It will either go off like gangbusters, or it will leave people wondering, 'What was that about?'," says Drasin, who is organizing the event. What he is referring to isn't the agency pitches per se, but a series of panel discussions that will be clustered at hotels in midtown Manhattan during the weeklong event. Among the discussions will be one featuring some of the world's leading private security consultants, who will challenge the agency CEOs--including a cross-section from some of the leading brand agencies--on whether they are truly prepared for global security issues such as terrorism for their agencies, or the clients they serve.

"It's going to be an edgy panel," acknowledges Drasin, who nonetheless maintains that the topic is completely appropriate and extremely relevant for Madison Avenue. To be sure, it wasn't one addressed during the multitude of panel discussions that took place last week during Advertising Week.

Another of the AdForum events is more conventional from an advertising point of view, but also promises to be mind-stretching. "Rather than doing the next panel on procurement--yawn, yawn, yawn --we reached out the MIT Media Lab to put together an event on what the world's going to look like five to ten years out, and how well agencies are prepared to deal with that," shares Drasin.

Interspersed between these discussions will be a series of one-on-one huddles between the top brass of media and brand agencies. Following last year's presentations, AdForum, which was founded by French advertising executive Hervé de Clerck, actually had the consultants grade the agency pitches. To the surprise of many of the attendees, the presentations of the media services specialists were generally more finely tuned, more articulate, and far more differentiated than those of their brand agency counterparts.

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