“Keep Connecting” - AAF National Conference 2008 Keynote

By Wally Snyder, President and CEO, American Advertising Federation
AAF Conference 2008 | Tuesday, June 10, 2008 | Atlanta, GA

Thank you, Murray, and good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen . . .

I want to spend my time with you today thanking all of you— the members and officers of the AAF— for all that you have done during my stewardship of this wonderful organization.

I believe we have accomplished much together because we are part of a national community of professionals and friends that are connected for the good of all. We are the American Advertising Federation, and that means something special because our brand is special. Our view of America includes connections: a richness of diversity, the power of inclusiveness and the love of community.

I have always believed that this federation is the strongest in the advertising industry because we include everyone in our membership: clients, agencies, media, suppliers, college chapters and ad clubs.

I am so proud of the connections we’ve established over 16 years with the ad clubs. I’ve visited nearly 150 cities in across the country, and I’ve always been received warmly, with respect and enthusiasm.

Respect, enthusiasm and connections make the AAF brand unique— the Unifying Voice for Advertising, a brand we adopted in 1994. It is our brand, but it is also our goal. Unity has never been more important as our industry experiences rapid expansion.

Over the past 16 years, we have accomplished much because we practice what we preach— we are the Unifying Voice for Advertising. We have been able to coordinate our efforts nationally and locally to protect this great industry. We have been able to communicate with one another to learn and build on our successes, and more importantly, we have built a community as we have brought professionals together from across the country.

The groundbreaking programs of the past have become the standard in the industry. They continue to exemplify the essence of the AAF brand and serve members who take advantage of our inclusive nature. Let’s talk about a few of my favorites, starting with . . .

  • The Advertising Hall of Achievement. Picture this: I’m just beginning my presidency and we’ve got problems, including some serious financial woes. It’s one of those cold January days and during a planning meeting in Washington, D.C. (we couldn’t afford to go to Florida), Betty Hudson, an NBC executive at the time, said: “It sounds like everything the AAF is doing is for old geezers.” That night, at a cocktail reception, board members Jack Avrett and Bill Marlieb come up to me and said, “Wally, we have a great idea… a Hall of Fame for young people— people who are making their mark on the advertising industry.” That was it. The Advertising Hall of Achievement was born. The program has recognized nearly 100 of the best and brightest of the industry. It was created in community, and it has brought these inspiring young leaders together in community— a community that gives back with AAF scholarships to our minority students, that serves on our boards and accepts speaking engagements on AAF’s behalf. I remember my early efforts in soliciting support and meeting with John Osborn, Advertising Hall of Achievement member and president and CEO of BBDO New York. I told him, “The organization needs more than your respect; I want you to LOVE us.” And he enthusiastically replied, “Wally, I LOVE the AAF!”
  • The Advertising Hall of Fame—An institution that honors the pioneers of our profession, educates industry professionals and academicians, and inspires current and future practitioners of our craft. The AAF connection went global when in 2008 our Hall of Fame chairman Tim Love recommended that we include great international advertising professionals as candidates for consideration. When the late Marcel Bleustein-Blanchet, the founder of the Publicis Groupe, was announced as the first international inductee, I received a phone call from Paris, from Maurice Levy, chairman & CEO of Publicis Worldwide. He said, “Wally, thank you and the AAF for reaching out and including the international advertising community in the American Advertising Hall of Fame.” What better diplomacy could America have?
  • The Most Promising Minority Students Program—This was a project to demonstrate to the industry there were young people of color eager and ready for careers in advertising. We started with 25 students in 1997. Last February in New York City, we had 48 recruiters present for 50 students. Success happens when you challenge traditional thinking and refuse to let clichés rule the day. Our young minority professionals prove they have the scholastic and professional prowess to compete in the industry. Again, this program was created and executed in community. I remember connecting with Vince Cullers, Tom Burrell, Byron Lewis, Don Coleman, Héctor Orcí and other top minority professionals to learn what was needed. I really believe multiculturalism takes all of us connecting— black and white, brown, red and yellow. The fruits of these efforts can be seen in the annual Mosaic Career Fairs held in Atlanta, the District of Columbia, Los Angeles and Chicago; the power of inclusive thinking means scores of young people of all colors will become a part of the industry we love. They are the future CEOs, art directors, copywriters, producers, account executives, and— yes!—AAF leaders— who will take this organization to unimaginable heights. They will do the same for your organizations— give them a chance.
  • I am so proud of our young people. The talent from another AAF signature brand— the National Student Advertising Competition—is featured at this conference. Think about AAF’s constant call for unity as you network with these budding professionals. Breathe in their optimism and creativity and imagine how they will help your company set new goals and reach new markets. More than 80,000 young people have participated in the NSAC since 1973, feeding that pipeline from the academy to the industry. Just the other day I thought about Steve Pacheco, one of our current board members who is the director of advertising for FedEx. Steve and I met as speakers at a District 7 conference in Alabama. Steve said to me, “Wally, you know, we’ve met before.” I said, “When was that?” He said, “When I was the 29-year-old president of the Memphis Advertising Federation, the year we had the biggest ADDY Awards ever…” Then he went on to tell me, “And I competed for Memphis State in the 1982 NSAC.” So, I asked Steve to speak to our current students where he dazzled them with memories of late nights, pizzas and bleary eyes during the competition. He’s still giving back, still connected. And we’re still making connections: Next year our students will be working on a public service campaign with the Century Council. The Ad Council brought this proposal to us, and it provides an opportunity for students to use their talents for their community.
  • The AAF also has responded boldly to a number of crisis situations facing this industry. Shortly after I joined the AAF, we faced a government crisis, with both the federal government attempting to take away our ad tax deduction and 25 states attempting to tax advertising. It is important not to forget the ultimate battle we had in the state of Florida. We initially lost, even after we had demonstrated in public hearings across the state the harm it would do to the industry. Our local ad club members never gave up in Florida. I made 15 trips to that state, and we continued to organize and fight that tax, and six months later it was repealed. State legislators credited the ad clubs and companies for demonstrating the economic harm it had caused.

We took what we had learned from our efforts in Florida and went across this great nation of ours organizing our local resources to successfully fight advertising taxes in 24 more states. We did this by creating state legislative assemblies that maximized AAF’s local connections and by relying on our AAF club members.

I remember so well the ad tax fight in Kentucky. Our AAF witness was the most effective. He was a young man from the western part of the state. He told the legislators, "I'm a one-person advertising shop. I'm doing really well. I didn't always believe I could be successful. But if you pass this ad tax, all of my business will go right across the river. Please don’t take away my American dream."

I have learned that the best way to defend our industry is to work proactively with our federal and state governments. Self-regulation is a cornerstone goal of the AAF, and we have continued to support the National Advertising Review Council and the Children’s Advertising Review Unit.

We also proactively worked with the government when we developed our Mosaic Principles and Recommended Practices to promote our diversity initiatives. The FCC was on the verge of regulating the industry because minority firms were not getting a fair share of the business. We went to then-FCC Chairman Bill Kennard and assured him self-regulation would work, and he gave us a chance to prove it. The AAF formed a task force (a community, really) of national advertisers like Proctor & Gamble and Johnson & Johnson; ad agencies like Leo Burnett; minority agencies like Burrell and La Agencia de Orcí; minority media like BET; and key members of Congress—Robert Menendez of the Hispanic Congressional Caucus and Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick of the Congressional Black Caucus. Together, this dynamic group worked for more than a year and forged what we today call the Mosaic Principles and Practical Guidelines. The initiatives were so relevant that they were accepted and endorsed by the FCC and other agencies. That’s the power of unity, the power of common goals, the power of community.

Much has happened over the years; tens of thousands of miles flown; hundreds of meetings (including those 150 ad clubs visited), thousands of people I’ve connected with . . . and yet there is much to do.

  • My successor, James Edmund Datri, will be a tremendous president & CEO of the AAF. I admire his qualities as well as his unbounded enthusiasm and high energy. The future of this organization is in excellent hands. I look forward to working with him over the next few months.
  • Howard Bell and his wife Chan. Howard is the man who hired me, who believed in me and who mentored me and has been my guide through the years. Together, he and I have served the AAF for 46 years.
  • All of my chairmen have meant so much to me. They were all dedicated to the AAF community. I learned something special from each of them. Let me personally thank those who are here today, including:
    • John McMennamin—my first chairman
    • Carla Michelotti
    • Andy Jung
    • Mark Dacey
    • Murray Gaylord

I'd also like to recognize the chairmen who served under Howard Bell who are here today, including Bill Sharp and Pat Martin. Pat has continued to be active in all of the years of my presidency.

  • My excellent staff, including Jeff Perlman, Joanne Schecter, Karen Cohn and Clark Rector who have been with me through my entire presidency; the late and wonderful Janet Kennedy who ran our Western operation so effectively and with so much love; Connie Frazier, who has worked with me on what I hope will be my legacy—multiculturalism and diversity in this industry—and Carol Kennedy and the other wonderful professionals who have helped me organize my working life over the years.
  • My family. Seventeen years ago, our two sons accompanied Jean and me to Nashville where I was elected president. They have always been generous with their heart and time, willing to share me with so many others. Our son, Steve, is here with me today. And please permit this proud Dad to indulge in some paternal boasting— Steve has just graduated from law school at George Washington University. Our other son, Charlie, is in California completing his first year of teaching elementary school. I am so proud of my son using his talents in the classroom to mentor and educate young students.
  • And… most important of all…my wife, Jean, who has been with me at every conference and has supported me every day in every way. Thank you, Jean. I love you.

Beyond my gratitude lies unbridled enthusiasm for the challenges ahead. That feeling, for me, is perfectly captured in a novel by Paulo Coelho. “The Alchemist” is the tale of a shepherd boy who dreams of seeing the world. The author writes, “It was the language of enthusiasm, of things accomplished with love and purpose, and as part of a search for something believed in and desired.”

My time at the helm of the AAF is coming to an end, but I know you will retain your enthusiasm for the things this wonderful organization believes in and desires. That’s why it’s tough to say goodbye. But I still have one more order to give before I vacate the premises.

My charge to you is to continue:

  • Continue to connect, continue to build unity, continue to build community.
  • Continue to include all in our community; continue to bring our members closer together using this great global digital infrastructure we enjoy; continue to build community and unite around common causes.
  • You must continue to take charge of expanding AAF’s mission and influence:
  • Take charge of expanding opportunities for all in this great industry. Keep connecting as members. Bring together our college graduates with our company members for great employment opportunities. The AAF owns this connection. We must market the exceptional quality of our entry-level candidates.
  • Take charge of connecting all of our professionals with new job opportunities. This is a major benefit of AAF membership. Expand the Job Bank to become the number-one source of industry employment.
  • Take charge of preparing our companies and professionals for this new world of advertising. We are the organization that brings all facets of the business to one table to discuss, resolve and build for the future. There’s no “children’s table” when the AAF dines on problems or success. We bring everybody together at one table.
  • Take charge of protecting our industry from unwise legislation and regulation. The AAF was made for the purpose of leading the way in Washington, D.C., and throughout the states. Our responsibility is to build community among the other players and lead the way to coordinated responses.
  • Take charge of building a multicultural marketing community that will lead the way for our companies and members. I have worked hard at the AAF to present diversity as a competitive advantage. I believe our multicultural community is the strength of America. And, as I’ve said before, the color of that community is black and white, brown, red and yellow. Remember, our “Inclusive DNA” means we are proud of our differences, our uniqueness. The role of the AAF will be to continue connecting the talent in the advertising industry, to stay ahead of the curve while formulating effective marketing and professional practices.

The AAF has been my job— and my professional love— for 26 years. To quote Advertising Hall of Fame member, Mary Wells Lawrence: “I’ve loved every minute of it.”

It has been my honor to work together with you to build community and to be your counselor.

My final advice: Keep Connecting.