The Blog

Remaking the American Advertising Federation

Yesterday the Cincinnati chapter of the American Advertising Federation—aka “The AdClub“—hosted a luncheon with James Edmund Datri, the new President of the AAF, and I was lucky enough to break away from the daily grind to hear from the man who represents the advertising industry in Washington, D.C. In a short but wide-ranging discussion, Datri presented himself as a strong leader who promises to help us transform into a more meaningful industry.

The title of the luncheon was “The State of the Advertising Industry,” but it actually started with a description of how the AAF itself is also working on a turnaround plan. I was surprised and impressed to hear that Datri is walking in the shoes of many business leaders by trying to cut costs in a tough economy. (He came into the role with a $500,000 budget deficit.) I was further impressed to hear that he is making some critical moves; for example, he has already downsized staff, reorganized jobs by workload (versus function), moved to a paperless office, and cut his and other executives’ salaries by 15%. Datri understands that these moves not only help close the budget gap, but show his members that their organization is sharing the pain of its constituents.

But Datri has also recognized that his organizationlike the ad industry itselfmust use these tough times to invest in transformation. Datri spoke of his belief that organizations that fail to invest in needed areas will miss the chance to benefit from the transformation thrust upon us.

The AAF is taking a few smart measures to become more relevant and financially stable. First, Datri is leading a charge to recruit more corporate members into his organization. New wins include Wrigley and the Jim Beam brands. Of course, with a new President and Congress, it’s a pretty compelling time for big businesses to become more active in Washington through the AAF.

I was more impressed with Datri’s drive to do more at the grassroots level through his embrace of new social networking technology. His strategy is to make the organization more valuable and better able to act on national politics by activating the 40,000 members around the country with new tools. He has already gotten the group on Facebook and Twitter (although I cannot find the Twitter account).

I asked Datri whether he was personally engaged with these tools, and he admitted that he was behind but will be making them a center of his communication plan in the weeks and months ahead. He clearly gets that these tools are not simply broadcast media, and he seemed genuinely excited about the chance to digitally network with people in AdClubs around the country when he returns from his cross-country luncheon tour.

Toward the end of his speech, Datri admitted that advertising professionals are not viewed with a great deal of respect. He specifically called out that too many people (including lawmakers) think of our industry as made up of Mad Men and pockets of elites in New York City and L.A.—completely missing the AdClub folks in places such as Houston, Minnesota, and Seattle, which are full of good people doing important work for businesses. Datri committed to driving the AAF to help rebrand our industry and show the world the value of our profession.

I just hope the AAF does more than simply telling the public we are doing good, but rather it helps its members embrace the more meaningful-marketing model that we must follow to deliver on this promise.

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