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Advertising Agencies: We're Good Enough, We're Smart Enough, and Doggone it, People Like Us!

Greetings from the Ritz Carlton in Laguna Niguel, Calif., where U.S. advertising executives are here to wear lanyards, eat buffet meals, listen to speeches – Eric Schmidt, NBC’s Ben Silverman, creative legend Lee Clow, and media buyer bigwig Irwin Gotlieb all spoke this morning – and drink cocktails at parties sponsored by the corporations that threaten to wreak havoc on their business models (Microsoft hosted the first last night, a Mexican “fiesta” complete with three varieties of tequila and fruit juice margaritas). I’ve got some time in between sessions so I’m scribbling down some thoughts.

If you wanted a window into the secret longings, fears, and hopes of advertising agencies these days, the first 30 minutes of today’s session would have done the job. The morning kicked off with a video elegy to Phil Dusenberry, the legendary BBDO advertising creative who passed away earlier this year. It could have as easily been an elegy to the glory days of the 30-second spot. As it played clips of Dusenberry’s Pepsi ads, the video trumpeted their slick soundtracks, their high production values (as expensive as films, it pointed out), and their glamorous celebrities like Michael Jackson and Madonna.

Next came an indignant motivational speech from TBWA CEO and 4A’s chairman Tom Carroll. I found it a bit akin to Al Franken’s “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me!” skit on Saturday Night Live, only angrier. “We have to get our confidence back, and I think we do have our confidence back,” he said. “When someone says we don’t understand data, that’s bullshit. We do understand data…we understand technology, we understand mobile, we understand a lot.” And later on: “Everybody can start talking about our demise but it’s still all heading our way already.” Then came the hope: speeches by two of the most successful, forward-looking men in the business: GroupM CEO Irwin Gotlieb and TBWA/Chiat/Day Creative Director Lee Clow.

More on them, along with Eric Schmidt et al., later. If you want up-to-the-minute notes on the details of the speeches, there’s an excellent twitter feed from Ian Schaefer, the CEO of New York-based interactive agency Deep Focus. It’s definitely worth checking out.

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