Two weeks ago I attended Nielsen’s annual Consumer 360 conference in D.C., and it was unlike any industry conference I’ve ever attended. It opened with high-profile stars from the entertainment world talking candidly about a number of very “uncomfortable” issues weighing on the media and entertainment industries today, from MeToo and diversity and inclusion to alternative facts and attacks on the news media.
In one session, rapper/actor Riz Ahmed took on Hollywood’s poor track record on diversity in representation and inclusion. He was followed by Molly Ringwald of Breakfast Club and Sixteen Candles fame talking about the MeToo movement and the extraordinary challenges that women face in Hollywood. Those sessions foreshadowed the next morning’s conference opener by black leather jacket-clad Nielsen president Megan Clarken, who took candidness to a new level — a level certainly not typically seen in industry conferences — let alone one hosted by Nielsen, a company not historically associated with terms like friendly, candid, open and compassionate.
Clarken started off talking about the importance of the media and entertainment industries and how their perils are all of our perils. She bemoaned that most industry conferences are terrible, focusing too much on panels talking about problems with no real solution and offering too many people pitching their products and companies. She admitted full awareness of the fact that most of the 850+ Nielsen Watch customers in attendance didn’t really like the company, or at least don’t like Nielsen a good portion of the time.
It would be a significant understatement to say that most in the room were taken off guard, in a bit of wonderment about the unusual interviews the evening before and now a degree of candidness (with no PowerPoint) that neither usually occur at a Nielsen event or are spoken publicly by top Nielsen executives.
Megan told us that she and Nielsen want to change the tone of the conversation in the media and industry. Nielsen recognizes that the past may have been one where a single company could dominate the market and impose its will on others, but that the digital, disrupted future that we all face requires a degree of collaboration and partnership well beyond what we have today. She stressed that Nielsen welcomes this future.
As promised, the conference unfolded with a tone that was different from others. Comcast President Marcien Jenckes used his keynote to also talk about the need for collaboration, and the importance of mission-driven companies. Marketer extraordinaire Jon Mildenhall of Airbnb and Coca-Cola showed how true mission-driven companies are dramatically advantaged over competitors and gave examples of corporate decisions and ad campaigns.
I left the conference — as did many others, I suspect — quite hopeful that our industry and one of its most important companies was taking a tack in tone and focus that would make us all better. Incredibly, just a week later, I heard a similar tone in interviews at the ARF’s annual media measurement conference, AudienceXScience, where NBCU’s Linda Yaccarino, probably the strongest voice in the industry today for improved media measurement, talked about an openness to work with Nielsen to create the future that we all need.
Megan Clarken, who followed her on stage at the event, echoed her belief in collaboration and opening to working together with NBCU.
Is a new Nielsen unfolding before our eyes? Are we ready for it? What do you think?