POV: Interview with Nancy Hill, CEO of the 4A’s

Jami Oetting
Jami Oetting



Nancy-HillHaving worked in the advertising for nearly 30 years, what has been the biggest change in the industry?

Technology is the obvious answer, but not for the reasons you may think. Before we had the ability to generate ad-like objects on our Macs, we had to show clients sketched ideas. They had to take a leap of faith on what the outcome might be, and they did. Everyone was invested in the IDEA, not the execution. We did this together, as a team. When the outcome surpassed even our wildest expectations, we celebrated together. Clients succeeded; we succeeded; and the relationships flourished. I don't think we have that kind of bond anymore.


What challenges are advertising agencies currently facing? How do they need to evolve in order to stay relevant in the next 10 years?

Agencies are facing many challenges these days. Not the least of which is how to manage ideas through many different channels. I think that the hardest thing to admit is when an idea needs to be executed by someone other than your agency. Letting go and collaborating is the best way to get the necessary outcome. Agencies are notoriously bad at this kind of collaboration, but the ones who are most successful know that it is essential.

How is the 4A’s evolving to meet the current and future needs of agencies?

We look at our priorities every day to make sure that we are meeting our members' needs. Everything we do is based on members’ input. From our compensation surveys to the work we do on privacy to the ever-evolving needs in the talent arena, we are evolving our offerings literally every day.

What should brands be looking for in an advertising agency? Why is the 4A’s an important part of this selection process?

One of our member agencies said it best. Brands should look beyond the creative when choosing an agency. Sound financial practices, ongoing training, robust media planning and buying capabilities and adherence to a recognized set of industry ethics and standards are just as important as creative. The 4A’s provides all of that and much more for our members.

What types of training and education are agencies most interested in for the coming year?

As the advertising industry continues to morph, demand for relevant, affordable and accessible staff education is always increasing. Business development, strategy, project management or leadership skills training is also in great demand. While management skills training is always needed, in many cases our content emphasis has shifted toward leadership skills in the quest to help members add even greater value to client relationships through the development of more innovative products and services.

Tell us about the Digital Advertising Alliance.

The Digital Advertising Alliance is an excellent example of industry collaboration at its best. Media and marketing associations came together to prevent federal regulation and developed an initiative to give consumers a better understanding of and greater control over ads that are customized based on their online behavior, also called "interest-based" advertising. The success of this collective effort was recognized earlier this year by the White House, which lauded the DAA as a model that should be replicated by other countries.

You’ve been outspoken on the need for the industry to attract a more women and professionals of various ethnic backgrounds. Why does the lack of diversity in advertising result in a business problem for agencies?

It's a proven fact that having more women and ethnicities represented in business results in better business performance. Companies that have more women in the C-suite and boardroom outperform those who don't by a considerable margin. (You can find this in a number of studies.) More importantly, we are an industry that both influences and is influenced by the culture of our society. Simply reflecting one ethnic group isn't good enough.

What trends in advertising do you find most interesting/exciting?

Ideas, not technology, are driving the conversation again. You'll see this reflected in our upcoming transformation conference, where this year’s theme is "The Idea Effect."

One reason you love what you do: I have always enjoyed the people in this industry. They are the most creative, intelligent, curious people I have ever met. That's what keeps me going.

Mentor: I have two: Bonnie Lunt and Laurie Coots.

Must-read book: Last year's "Gone Girl" by Gillian Flynn — It’s well-crafted, tightly told and a definite page-turner. I read it on the subway every day, and it made me not want to get off the train!

Connect with Nancy on Twitter @nhhill.

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