ANA Conference '08: Three Out Of Four Chief Marketing Officers Surveyed Strongly Suggest Ad Spending Cuts Are Coming

At today’s CMO Roundtable lunch, moderator and former GE marketing exec Richard Costello admirably came right at the panelists with a very direct question about marketing right now. Or, as he delicately put it, “The economy sucks. A. How are you feeling it right now, and B. what do you plan to do about it in the next year? What adjustments do you think you have to make?”

One of them—Verizon’s John Harrobin—said outright that his company’s increased Web spending will lessen advertising in other, more traditional precincts:

“We’ll be shifting to more performance-based media, rather than print and radio.”

Two others did not address ad spending directly. (I got a slightly similar tap-dance in lieu of an actual answer yesterday, when I asked two Bank of America marketing execs if they’d need to cut spending in 2009, and, if so, where.) But both hammered hard on stepping up efforts in dealing directly with existing customers, to whom a company can easily reach out to (through email and direct mail, say) in ways that have nothing to do with buying an ad. In fact, such efforts likely work better when companies do not buy an ad.

Becky Saeger, Charles Schwab: "The customer’s our #1 priority, over and out. We will not touch anything involves customer service or help, or our ability to deliver on that. Like a lot of marketers, we’ll take it one day at a time . . . [and] make decisions on a weekly basis on how we spend, where we spend, and where the opportunity is."

Steve Sullivan, Liberty Mutual: "We’re redoubling efforts to retain customers . . . and create more customer delight. More surprises. Despite this downturn there are still some opportunities." (He went on to describe a ton of promising market developments, albeit in places like China, Vietnam and Brazil.)

None of this can be taken as a surprise, given all the economic tumult out there. But all the same, this is not US media executives like to hear from CMOs that spend eight- and nine-figure sums on advertising each year.