Agencies Agency Leadership

It’s not all AI: Ad execs’ alternative (imaginary) marketing conference keynotes


By Sam Anderson, Network Editor

May 28, 2024 | 8 min read

As awards season’s Big Topics cement themselves onto schedules the world over, we give marketing leaders a soap box to preach about the other issues that matter.

A microphone

Why is no-one talking about this? Marketers on the under-discussed macro trends this awards season / Israel Palacio via Unsplash

The marketing and advertising worlds have officially entered silly season: campaigns and activations dropping all at once, more networking opportunities than even the most dedicated schmoozer could tolerate, and all those big ticket events: Cannes Lions, Advertising Week, and (of course) The Drum Awards for Marketing.

Like any year’s events season, this year’s big topics are already seemingly set in stone: AI, first-party data, sustainability. But can the rich variety of a global industry ever be boiled down to just a few on-trend obsessions? Of course not. That’s why we asked marketing leaders from The Drum Network what they’d give their keynotes on if trends were no object.

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Alistair Robertson, creative partner, Nucco: “What should we be talking about? The significant decline – almost crash - in marketing spend. The annual Gartner CMO spend survey revealed that 2024 marketing budgets have dropped to an average of 7.7% of company revenue, a 15% decrease from 2023 and 30% below the 11% recorded in 2020. It’s evidence of what many marketers, agencies and freelancers are feeling: opportunities are scarce. We need to be discussing this because it impacts us all – our career expectations, home lives, mental health, and ultimately our industry’s reputation as an exciting place to grow.”

Christian Edwards, chief executive & co-founder, This is Tommy: “There’s an elephant in the room for agency leaders. The choice between evolving their model to drive growth or stick with selling their time. Our already competitive landscape is getting tougher (commoditization, declining fees, AI rising, the outdated billable hour model). It feels like there’s another problem around every corner. The current labour-based approach has limited our ability to adapt. Agencies are sitting ducks. High client expectations are shrinking margins, endangering creativity and innovation. We need to talk about switching from time-based services to productized value, turning agency expertise into repeatable solutions for high-value problems. Agencies should be sharpening their positioning, helping them to stand out and boost pricing power. Designing repeatable, high-value offerings will build strong client relationships – not something to shy away from. It’s time for agencies to be fairly paid for their expertise. The path we’re on only leads to the bottom."

Dyana So, senior strategist, 160over90: “We need to understand audiences and communities beyond data points, platforms, and generations. Consumers are leaning into traditional marketing categories (gen Z, millennial, boomer), sparking discourse and memes on social media, exasperating generational divides, and challenging arbitrary, demographic tribes. Our interests, lifestyles, fandoms, and rituals define us more than the age groups we’re born into. It’s in these global cultural courtyards where brands should engage them to create meaningful experiences around (and become the focuses within) tentpole marketing events.”

Daniel Feuer, creative director, Clickon: “In a world governed by the cold calculations of artificial intelligence, the urgent call for unabashed human storytelling rings louder than ever. Not just any storytelling; the kind that grips you by the soul, shakes you awake, and demands to be heard. Versus AI’s clinical analysis, we need stories that bleed truth, that aren’t afraid to expose the raw, messy reality of human existence. These stories aren’t neat packages of data; they’re visceral, they’re real, and they resonate deep within us. Why? Because in a world where algorithms dictate so much of our lives, we risk losing touch with what it means to be human. We need stories that challenge, provoke, and ignite our empathy. Stories that remind us of our shared struggles, our triumphs, our flaws. Brutally honest human storytelling isn’t just a luxury; it’s a necessity. It’s our lifeline in a sea of artificiality, our beacon of authenticity in a world veiled by algorithms. It’s time to reclaim our narrative and unleash the power of our humanity.”

Eoin Rodgers, chief marketing officer, Atomic: “Today’s B2B buyers are indifferent at best; avoidant at worst. They got overwhelmed. Then they got savvy. What are we going to do about it? The old playbooks don’t cut it anymore. Yet no-one’s talking about the obvious solution. If buyers actively dislike the experiences we’re creating and the rigid journey we’re forcing them along, it makes sense explore alternatives. It’s a buyer’s market. That means it's the buying cycle, not the sales cycle, that matters now. The B2B marketer’s new mission is to make it easier for buyers to buy. And to do that, we need to understand buyers: how they think, feel and act during the buying process. How they would like buying to happen. It’s time to rethink the messages and experiences we create for buyers and stop lamenting the ineffectiveness of the status quo.”

Jamie Davies, UK Executive creative director, Momentum Worldwide: “A theme within a theme within a theme: it all sometimes feels like Inception. Can we ever stop obsessing about industry themes? I know it gives us something to either attack or embrace, but let’s look at the trends that should really be macro-mainstays. Like accessible, diverse, and inclusive work that doesn’t feel forced and heavy handed but empathic and authentic, preferably created by the communities featured. Work that highlights world issues, problems, and tough topics – and doesn’t try to thoughtlessly brand them, but co-exists with them to drive scale, innovatively and symbiotically with audience and subject matter.

We face the same challenges as always: an often-cruel planet that frequently feels unbalanced and uncontrollable. Tech/AI/new-stuff-that-can-feel-a-little-scary-and-unknown… and things that still need to be sold. We have to provide the insights and create clear, audience-relevant stories with measurable data baked in through. It should matter to us, otherwise we just co-create more white noise… wait, is that a theme?”

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Momentum Worldwide

Momentum Worldwide has a proud history of creating industry-first experiences that authentically place brands in the cultural conversation. 1,000+ individuals across...

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Atomic is a B2B Marketing and Employer Branding agency. We help tech marketers unearth buyer truths that make them more relevant to their audiences, and relevant...

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160over90, part of the Endeavor network, is an award-winning cultural marketing agency that elevates brands by creating ideas for the world to obsess over and shared...

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Tommy are a Global Creative & Production Studio who stand out in the sea of sameness to deliver work that is truly distinctive. Ideas that are different. New. Evoke...

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