Want to Learn How to Play Shortstop? (originally published 3 October 2014)

Advertising Week 2014 started yesterday and it was opened by Sir Martin Sorrel, fresh off his Cannes keynote, hosting a panel on "Winning: How to Win in Today's Competitive Environment" and I for one had absolutely no interest in going.

Not because I have anything against Mr. Sorrel or Sir Martin as I'm sure he prefers to be called (I certainly would if I had received a Knighthood), but I wasn't interested because I'm really not going to learn anything from Sir Martin.

I don't know Sir Martin, but I have met and worked for a couple of the CEO's of the holding companies, and they know a lot of things. They know a lot of things about finance and banking that I'm never going to comprehend and if I wanted to know about those things they would be on my "to-do" list of calls.

Equally, I would welcome them as headliners at the "How to Finance Large Advertising Holding Companies" conference. (By the way, if that conference could be bottled, Ambien would be given a run for the money).

But if I want to know about winning in advertising I would much rather hear from the winners who do and have done the work to which we all aspire. I would much rather hear keynotes from Dan Wieden and David Kennedy, or Martin Puris and Ralph Ammirati, or Richard Kirshenbaum and Jon Bond or from Bill Koenigsburg and so on than from the leaders of the holding companies.

It's like going to baseball camp and being taught how to play Shortstop by Hank and Hal Steinbrenner. If I'm paying for camp -- a lot of money for camp -- can I please get the Shortstop section taught by Derek Jeter or Cal Ripken?

Yeah, I know the business realities -- inviting a holding company president to speak is basically printing money because then all the agencies in that company are forced to pay for your tickets.

But some of us would really like to pay our hundreds of dollars for our limited-access-tickets for something useful and stop having every major industry event turned into...well a crass marketing opportunity to get me to spend money on something that is almost completely useless.

To me these conferences have turned into icons for everything that is wrong with the industry: Advertising agency people awash in much too expensive food and much too expensive alcohol focused solely on making the most money for the least amount of work; such that nobody seems to be much interested in advertising anymore -- why an does an ad work or not -- how it is done -- what are the pitfalls? How do I do "Just Do It" or come up with "The Ultimate Driving Machine" or start the fastest growing and still independent media agency the business? Well, I don't know -- but what I do know is that you won't hear about that at any industry conference.