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The Drum

Kaplowitz shares vision for 4A’s and trust of agency community

Marla Kaplowitz, newly-appointed 4A's president and chief executive

After nearly nine years as president and chief executive of the American Association of Advertising (4A’s), Nancy Hill has continually sought to modernize the organization and prime it for the next phase of growth. Newly-named 4A’s president and chief executive, Marla Kaplowitz, looks to continue building from that foundation as she prepares to take over the role.

Giving The Drum a peek into her vision and goals for the 4A’s — which is celebrating its 100th year — the search process, brokered by MediaLink, was one that afforded candor and opportunity to ask the tough questions, all for the greater good of the agency community.

“What was positive, as part of the process, what that after the initial interview meeting, I was given the opportunity to connect with anyone on the search committee,” said Kaplowitz, who will vacate her role as North America CEO for MEC. “It was like a mini focus group. I had anywhere from a half hour to an hour with each person and I could ask them whatever questions I wanted.”

Being able to talk openly senior agency leaders, at a variety of different agencies across the country, galvanized Kaplowtiz, a nearly 30 year veteran of the industry, and her desire to take on the role, one that she was intrigued about when she was first approached in October.

“I've always been incredibly passionate about this industry — so to think about a role that's about championing the industry and pushing it forward, that seemed like a natural fit,” said Kaplowitz.

Additionally, those involved in the process helped Kaplowitz, who has been received very positively in the new role by the industry, feel comfortable sharing her vision and ideas.

“Once I met with the search committee, which was a subset of the board, there was a really strong connection. Everyone seemed very aligned, I felt very comfortable being clear about what I saw as opportunities, what I had done in previous roles and what I could be doing moving forward,” noted Kaplowitz. “People really encouraged me to be bold and to not be shy about anything and to be really up front about what I saw as those opportunities.”

Big issues moving forward

Two key issues that are at the heart of the organization are around serving membership and diversity and Kaplowitz is keen to keep momentum moving on both fronts. The former, called a “number one priority,” relates to continually articulating the value of the 4A’s across the board — from large holding companies to small agencies, senior to junior people and everywhere in between. The latter, diversity, has long been an important part of the 4A’s and includes vital work with MAIP, high school programs and the 4A’s Foundation, a program that, among other things, provides scholarships for the development of multicultural advertising and media executives.

Another issue, and one that has become contentious, is the 4A’s relationship with Association of National Advertisers (ANA). In January 2016, the 4As released media transparency guidelines that the ANA deemed “premature” after the two organizations came together to form a task force in April 2015 to tackle transparency concerns related to rebates. The ANA published its own report last June that stated that “non-transparent business practices,” including rebates, were pervasive in the US media buying ecosystem.

For her part, Hill, believes that education in the advertising community is vital to change the course — and that important progress has been made.

“I think one of the things that happened was that digital just got away from everybody,” Hill told Beet.TV at the IAB's Annual Leadership Meeting. “Those of us who lived in the digital world just said ‘yeah, yeah, yeah, trust me, it’s going to be fine,’ because we all understood it. But I don’t think we did a good enough job of bringing the clients along with us and I think that’s something that in hindsight we could have done a better job of, but now we have to course correct and make sure that they understand what we understand.”

Procter & Gamble’s top marketer, Marc Pritchard has been critical of the media buying landscape but acknowledges that, as Kaplowitz puts it, “the negative narrative against agencies needs to stop and we think we need to find a common ground.” Indeed, as Kaplowitz mentioned, “agencies are working with clients to help them grow their business and clients want and need that partnership — and it's about making sure that we all get back to what we're trying to do [together].”

In what would be a clear sign of detente, Kaplowitz said that she “would love nothing more than to stand on stage at the ANA Masters of Marketing [Conference] with [ANA CEO] Bob Liodice and give him a big hug and repair this relationship but I think we've got to start having those conversations.”

The first domino that could fall in that quest could be at the 4A’s Transformation conference this April in Los Angeles where Pritchard is scheduled to speak publicly.

“I think that's the beginning of repairing the relationship with the ANA,” said Kaplowitz.

The next 100 years

The fact is, in the agency community, there is no “one size fits all,” Additionally, the pace of change, combined with some brands taking certain functions and work in-house adds to the perceived complexity of the ecosystem.

“It's important for us to make sure that it's clear to those brands, the benefits that agencies bring, and it doesn't have to be complicated, it really doesn’t. I think agencies continue to have obvious and tremendous value and that needs to be reinforced. ” said Kaplowitz. “Clearly there are different reasons why certain brands have [brought work in-house]. Many brands for years have brought the social piece in-house because they want to control that narrative and that is perfectly understandable, especially with some of the liability that potentially is involved.”

In Kaplowtiz’s mind, the remit of simplifying the complex, continually espousing the benefits of agencies to brands and to care deeply about members and furthering equality in the industry is just one part of the equation in building success.

“How do I take what's already been done and work with this team to push it forward for the future and reinvigorate what the 4A's has to offer — and not just to look back but to look forward on the next hundred years?”

With her experience and vision, it’s likely that Kaplowitz will be able to help continue to build momentum for the organization — and we’ll see more of that vision realized in April as she takes the stage for the first time as president and chief executive of the 4A’s.