Steve Sullivan, whose day job is senior vice president of communications for Liberty Mutual Group, says the ANA's current membership of 370 companies, its clear vision, and forward momentum have the trade association's 1,000-plus individual marketer members feeling good about the future.
"Marketers are more optimistic about their craft," says Sullivan, reflecting on this month's successful ANA annual conference, where he began his two-year term as chairman. "They were delighted by what they saw and heard, and I want to continue that. Rather than a time of peril, this is a time of exploration. Business is really good."
The CMO's role has taken on greater importance in more recent years. It has given marketers new value that upper management "has to ask us to make sense of what's happening in the world," Sullivan says.
Sullivan doesn't believe the basic tenets of marketing have changed, even though the vehicles and level of consumer involvement have. "The fundamentals of understanding customers' wants, needs and values both in what you produce and how you sell it to them hasn't changed at all."
Wanting to build on the legacies of predecessors Jim Speros, CMO of Ernst and Young, who served from 2002-04, and outgoing chair Jim Stengel, global marketing chief for Procter & Gamble, Sullivan said it is his goal to advance the ANA's mission of "insights, collaboration and advocacy" by creating "the best possible guild" for marketers.
"Marketing is not art and science, it's craft," says Sullivan, who for the last 11 years has led communications (which includes advertising and brand strategy) at Liberty Mutual. Before that, he managed two ad agencies in Boston and Connecticut. "How do crafts perpetuate themselves? They use guilds guided by the skilled practitioners who understand the importance of giving back."
That the keynote speaker of the recent ANA confab was P&G Chairman A.J. Lafley underscores both how engaged corporate leadership is in marketing and their desire to give back, he says.
One goal is to tailor a specific plan for each of its corporate members based on "what they need, want and value from the ANA." To that end, the ANA is planning to overhaul its Web site so that personal preferences can be better defined and information -- ranging from white papers on best practices to research -- is more readily accessible.
On the legislative front, Sullivan said the ANA will continue to be vigilant in espousing its support for commercial free speech and industry self regulation. Keeping abreast of ad tax issues alone justifies ANA's existence to its members, which each year spend an estimated $100 billion on marketing services and advertising, he said.
Research supported by the ANA, AAAA and underwritten by the powerful Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists seeks to find alternative methods of compensation for those performers whose commercials no longer appear only on TV and radio, but in a growing number of new-media venues.
Another particularly thorny issue is childhood obesity and the growing concern that food marketers are to blame for this national epidemic. Hearings and proposed legislation to control how food is marketed are being monitored by the ANA's legislative squad in Washington, D.C.
"Our job is to continue to deliver the message that industry self regulation is effective," Sullivan says. "We certainly can't and won't speak for the food industry, but we can continue to support and highlight the importance of free speech and self regulation where the people who would seek to regulate are making noise."