Iris Worldwide's CMO Sarah Aitken: What I learned from Advertising Week

As Advertising Week New York draws to a close, iris Worldwide (Americas) CMO Sarah Aitken shares what she’s learned from this year’s event.

Traditionally I had always viewed Advertising Week as a very practical talent development opportunity for our agency. It was five days perpetually marked on the calendar that afforded us the opportunity to get our bright young talent out of the day-to-day so they could mingle with industry folks, pick up on helpful trends and sound bites, and return to the office to compile their learnings into something creative to present to the rest of the agency.

This year I took a different approach. As our young bright minds were busy with pitches and client work, I decided to head out myself - checking out events like IAB MIXX and attending panels including one hosted by OMMA on which our planning director, Paolo, happened to be speaking, among others. While I was out and about, a crew back at the agency was tasked with monitoring the twittersphere and various live streams, gathering insight and picking up on overarching themes apparent throughout the week's events.

And while I've learned that I certainly don't need to send a team to physically go from event to event to get the broader sense of hot button industry topics, I did personally observe some very important shifts in industry discussion from the sessions I chose to engage with this year, and as an agency leader, it was extremely valuable.

The legendary Ron Berger, who began Advertising Week 1994 with the original Madison Avenue gang, recognised the importance of the advertising industry to the economy in New York City. There was no other moment for the community to come together and kick around pressing issues facing the industry and it created a chance for us to focus on being "better together” in an open and public forum. Advertising Week was never designed to take the power away from decision makers at industry bodies like the 4A’s or the IAB, but instead it was established to raise awareness and foster opinions and ideas so the industry could prosper in a more sustainable way. It was a time when awareness could be raised, and responsibility could be taken to make the industry better and to support its role as a key driver of the New York (and wider) economy. And it seems this vision continues to play out.

What this year did better than ever was to pull together an unbelievably impressive and influential list of speakers and panelists. The participation levels from the very top echelons of leading media, creative and technology organisations and the importance placed on the issues biting at the heels of progress was more powerful than I’ve seen since the SXSW punch on privacy.

The notion that art and science can and will be the best of bedfellows was reinforced throughout the week. Artists like Dominique Ansel and A-Track - not to mention the hundreds of YouTube stars and creators woven into panels – reminded us that innovation through technology wasn't the only thing driving our business. After years of technological obsession with consumers shifting their media consumption to tech platforms over TV, the role of the artist, the creator and the craft in the message has never been more powerful of a cultural force, proving yet again that it's less about the platform and more about the content that fills it. And that leveraging technology and data to provide people with more of what they like and less of what they don’t is absolutely crucial, today more than ever.

With all I absorbed at this year's event I'd say the key takeaway for me was that in order to truly benefit from Advertising Week, your top people must be an active part of the program. It is our collective responsibility to discuss and dissect the industry-wide issues and developments that will help our clients, our employees and most importantly, our consumers.

Next year, we’ll be there.

Sarah Aitken, CMO iris Worldwide (Americas)

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