‘We need to be the change’: rising, veteran luminaries highlight Ad Club of NY People of the Year gala

Ad Club of NY's People of the Year honorees Scotti, Bort, Gansca and Koenigsberg get toasted and roasted for achievements. / Margarita Corporan

The Advertising Club of New York’s Ad People of the Year gala honored a group of esteemed industry icons while giving a nod to the young talent already making waves in advertising’s largest market.

The annual gala took place this year at Guastavino’s, nestled under the 59th Street Bridge in Manhattan, and acknowledged its rising star, startup, New Yorker, legend and marketer. The crowd of 200-plus was treated to roasts and toasts of the honorees, while those honored managed to draw a few laughs of their own.

First up, was an effusive Samantha Bort, newly-named director of global digital innovation for L’Oreal brand Redken. After a light ribbing from colleague Melaney Collett of Lancome of her ascent from superstar intern to head of the cosmetics brand’s high-end hair product line.

After giving props to her team and her parents, who were stationed front row for her daughter's latest achievements, Bort said: "High standards are contagious. You all have the power to put someone like me on this stage,” adding, “Thank you for honoring my achievements. And thank you for recognizing my potential."

Beth Comstock, former GE chief marketer and vice chair, came up to introduce the Ad People startup winner, Knotch founder and chief executive Anda Gansca. The Transylvania native had impressed the exec with her idea for the digital content analytics firm enough for General Electric to invest in it. Since then, the firm has worked with the likes of HP Enterprise, Unilever, JPMorgan Chase and eBay.

“She's a timeless leader, who's wise beyond her years,” Comstock said, adding, “Someone who Audrey Hepburn would play in a film.”

In accepting her honor, Gansca gave a nod to the divisive environment for immigrants like herself as well as other communities impacted by recent government policies in the US in recent years, . “I'm proud to be part of this industry,” she said. “We have the power and muscle to drive lasting impact on these larger issues."

Carol’s Daughter founder, Lisa Price was named New Yorker of the Year. After founding her hair and body product business in a Fort Greene, Brooklyn storefront in 1999, the company had experienced growth like few black-owned brands at the time, with partnerships with HSN and Target before joining the L’Oreal family in 2015. Price was not in attendance, but left a video tribute to the Ad Club community.

Chris Weil of Momentum introduced Horizon Media’s founder, president and chief Bill Koenigsberg on his contributions in over 40 years. “I knew this man was a legend from the moment he invited me onto his private jet,” Weil said during a Powerpoint presentation for his peer, one that included a poorly photoshopped Legend Airlines jet, and quotes from Vince Lombardi and his kids to describe Koenigsberg. Horizon, which was founded in New York in 1989 has been one of the largest independent media agencies in the industry, holding more than 2000 employees in its two locations.

Koenigsberg took the stage soon after, addressing the industry’s manifold problems as of late, including the encroachment of rival firms in the management consultancy space and in-house creative firms. He offered a thought on the matter, saying: “Transparency, trust and relationships have been the cornerstone of our industry. We need to bring that back.” He then asked those in attendance to strive for better.

“We not only need to embrace change,” he said. “We need to be the change.”

Last up, Diego Scotti, executive vice president and chief marketer for Verizon. Former American Express chief marketer John Hayes recalled Scotti’s internship with Amex, which coincided with the September 11 terrorist attack.

“He had to do marketing triage for the brand, reaching out to everyone who was impacted by the attack — he should have been marketer of the year in 2001,” Hayes noted.

Scotti, who since went on to lead Amex’s global advertising, and spent stints at Conde Nast and J Crew before joining Verizon in 2014, has also made his unique stamp on the Advertising Club with helping to found the organization’s Adfellows initiative. Every year, the club handpicks a group of high-achieving female professionals and immerses them in leadership trainings over the course of a year.

Addressing the laundry list of accomplishments he'd accumulated, and his commitment to driving advertising's push to be more inclusive, Scotti credited his willingness to take the risks most marketers may have been too nervous to take.

“For those of you that know me, nine out 10 times, if someone says not to do something, I say ‘That has to be done.’”

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