Advertising Week Europe is storming London for the second time next week. Here’s a briefing from Executive Director Matt Scheckner.
Idris Elba is one of many big names speaking at Advertising Week Europe this year.
A week devoted to thinking about, gathering together and discussing the advertising industry? It’s a bit early in the year for that isn’t it? And not a drop of Provençale rosé in sight? Well there might be some wine, but the French Riviera remains safe from the ad industry’s assault next week. This time the venue is London.
Advertising Week Europe may seem like the new kid on the block from this side of the Atlantic. It is only in its second year in London. But it’s well established in States, having run in New York for ten years now.
We spoke to the event’s Executive Director Matt Scheckner about Advertising Week’s history and philosophy. With a force like him behind it, nothing’s getting in the way of this thing.
The Beak Street Bugle: How did Advertising Week start?
Matt Scheckner: It started with a call from a friend of mine who was then at DDB in New York. Her boss was a guy named Ken Kaess – he was the chair of the American Association of Advertising Agencies, which was the IPA of America. They were looking for a big idea to try to move the needle on a lot of big industry issues. Chronically poor morale. [Advertising] wasn’t perceived as being aggressive enough as an industry in embracing the coming – and then it was still the coming – shift to digital. Problems attracting young, talented people into the industry. They were looking for a galvanising idea to bring different parts of the industry together.
I’m not from the advertising industry. I’m just a New York kid who knows, when the curtain goes up, how to make sure something happens. So I’m very big on the where. I guess here is a good tie from back then to today: The very first meeting ever about Advertising Week was at Radio City Music Hall in New York, in the Roxy Suite. When Frank Sinatra used to play at Radio City he used to stay there and entertain guests there. That’s an unusual place to have a meeting. That notion of the where has very much carried forward from the beginning to today.
Jump ahead now to 2014 and that’s why you see us here at Ronnie Scott’s, BAFTA, St James’s Palace, Kensington Palace, Lancaster House, The House of Lords and Koko; and why you saw us last year at Abbey Road and St. Paul’s Cathedral – because those places are aspirational and inspirational. When people walk through those doors there’s a transformative effect that that has on people and I believe that’s very important.
BSB: Right at the beginning, what were your main goals?
MS: I think it’s always been to engage, to enlighten, to educate, to excite. It’s built on a firm foundation of thought leadership and it’s very much about paving the way forward.
We’ve never had a theme. One of the questions we get asked a lot is ‘what’s the theme this year?’ Well there’s never been a theme and if you look at the programme and you see the breadth and scope of it – there are something around 150 seminars this year in London. So there is no theme. The common thread is it’s got to be interesting. It’s got to be something that people will want to come and learn about.
We’ve always been very big on drawing from the broader arena of pop culture. That’s why we’re thrilled this year to have people like Idris Elba, James Cordon, Morgan Spurlock and Steve Coogan. In New York over the years we’ve had people like Jon Bon Jovi, Ludacris, Lauren Michaels and Arianna Huffington – people who are bigger than and beyond the industry. We do the things that you would expect like the Chief Creative Officers and the MDs and the people that sit in the corner office, but we also try the things that you wouldn’t expect.
I love what Mediacom have [put together as an event] – Staying On Top – they have [a panel including] the CEO of BskyB, Jeremy Darroch and rugby player Will Greenwood about winning and staying on top. If you’re number one, how do you stay there? I like that. Then there are certain subjects that are the pretty girl at the dance in a given year. I don’t know if they’ll be talking about native ads or programmatic next year, but this year they’re hot subjects, so you’ll see a lot of content around those subjects.
BSB: Describe the first Advertising Week, back in 2004.
MS: Much less ambitious than this one. We had a much more modest seminar programme. It was a lot smaller. The first opening gala was in Gracie Mansion, which is the mayor’s home in New York. And there was one other music event in 2004. We had a Battle of the Ad Bands that we didn’t produce. Someone else was doing it and it happed to be during Advertising Week, so we made it part of Advertising Week.
I felt really strongly that I didn’t want it to be something just for the big shots. The first big concert was 2006 [when] we had Gnarls Barclay and over the years we’ve had Panic at the Disco, Gym Class Heroes, Pharrell Williams, Big Boy, Wycleff, Busta Rhymes, Far East Movement, B.o.B. Here last year we had Nas and Mark Ronson and Rizzle Kicks. This year we have Bombay Bicycle Club and Katy B headlining Monday and Thursday night.
I very much felt from the beginning that you have to appeal to everyone and to do that you’ve got to make it cool. No 20- or 30-something kid wants to go and see Tony Bennett. I love Tony Bennett, but we’ve always been very conscious to programme for our audience. Also, nobody gets excited to go to the Sheraton at Heathrow, so nothing’s in a shitty hotel.
BSB: What have been the biggest changes from the first Advertising Week Europe last year to this year?
MS: It’s grown a lot. There’s just a lot more. We’re building two buildings. We’re building a structure from the ground up, literally, in the courtyard of BAFTA. Then we’re taking a blank, big empty space that’s physically in the BAFTA building that’s not part of BAFTA and constructing a Google Lounge and a 200-seat seminar room there.
The seminar programme is bigger and more ambitious and I think it’s a lot stronger, from top to bottom. It was good last year but this year it’s like, oh boy, look at this. And then in the evenings there’s just more.
A big year over year goal is to dramatically increase client engagement over the week and so I think we’ve really delivered on that promise with The Marketing Society really leading the way and also the Advertising Association on their Front Foot initiative and ISBA involved. There’s a dinner at Kensington Palace on Tuesday night [for around] 120 clients.
The other thing that makes this year special is the opening gala is at St. James’s Palace. And that’s not the kind of place that you can go to.
I think that we very much every year jam our foot on the gas and go into the fast lane right away. When we came over here last year there was no ‘well, let’s start small and see how it works.’ We came in with Ronnie Scott’s, BAFTA, St. Paul’s, Abbey Road, Nas, Susie Essman from Curb Your Enthusiasm. To use the old expression it was ‘go big or go home’ and we weren’t going to come all the way across the Atlantic without trying to play in the Premier League right away. We didn’t want to be Luton. We wanted to be Chelsea.
The other thing that was important was for it not to feel like we were exporting something from New York and just dropping it into London. We felt that it had to feel like the flowers grew from the earth over here and that, in tone and environment, it felt like it belonged here. So we’ve always been careful about that and have continued to be. I think that’s one of the reasons why the community has warmed to us because we never came in here with any of that American arrogance and said ‘this is how we fucking do it. Do it this way.’
BSB: How do you manage to achieve that?
MS: It’s a lot of engagement; a lot of listening. I think it’s a lot of very careful decisions about the where. I think the Ronnie Scott’s Leadership Breakfast series was a big idea that was either going to be really great or really awful. And it worked out great. People love the idea of jazz at eight AM and then a seminar.
BAFTA is really special to us. That’s probably the most important relationship that we have in terms of the seminar programme and we’re all sitting on the same side of the table there. So the typical landlord-tenant relationship – even if you get along really good with your landlord, the nature of that relationship is adversarial. Nobody loves their landlord. But we have a real relationship with them. We did this preview event on Monday night that BAFTA hosted and paid for for us. It was first class. Really well done. Nobody does that.
BSB: What else sets Advertising Week apart from other conferences?
MS: It’s very accessible. Go to most industry conferences you’re paying over a thousand pounds for something that’s a day or two in one room. Here there are four or five things going on at once. About 150 [seminars/workshops in total], it’s £329 and you can go to as much as you like. It’s like going to Hawksmoor if you like steak and for £20 it’s breakfast lunch and dinner every day and as many snacks in between as you like. It’s obscene. So that’s unique.