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Advertising Leadership Series: Q-and-A with 4A’s CMO Alison Fahey

4 min read


SmartBrief, as part of its Advertising Week coverage, is interviewing top executives at the 4A’s, IAB, MMA and ANA.

In the first post of the series, 4A’s Chief Marketing Officer Alison Fahey, a former executive at Adweek, discusses how her job as evolved since starting in March, the challenges facing advertising agencies and how the 4A’s is trying to serve its members and stay ahead of industry developments.

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What was the transition like coming to the association world from consulting and editing/publishing a trade magazine?

I think it’s a good thing I didn’t come here straight from running a newsroom. Having a couple of years on the business side, and then a year of consulting, I gained a better understanding of working with “clients.” Here, our members are our clients and we need to constantly look for better solutions for them. It’s a service-oriented approach, which is an entirely different mindset than creating content for readers. The other big transition has been the pace. I tend to make quick decisions and I’m fairly aggressive about pushing for change if that is what’s needed. That approach wouldn’t always work well within a so-called “association culture” but so far, so good.

Now that you’ve been at the 4A’s for six months, how would you define your role as CMO?

It’s evolving into several things but first and foremost, my job is to enhance the overall perception and reputation of the 4A’s brand. That not only means the look and feel of our actual branding, but our event programming, our presence in the marketplace, our partnerships, our outreach and engagement with membership, the content we create and our role influencing and shaping the industry through thought leadership. A couple of weeks ago, I presented the organization’s first marketing plan to our board of directors, so you will start to see a lot of those elements come to life in the weeks and months to come. It’s a very exciting time for us.

4A’s CEO Nancy Hill has talked about a five-year strategic vision for the 4A’s. Can you discuss that vision and the message 4A’s is trying to convey, and how you plan to deliver that message?

Ultimately, our mission to to help agencies become more successful and we do that everyday. The challenge is to make sure that every agency, every member is aware of our range of products and services and how we can partner with them.  And like our agency members, we also need to evolve to make sure we’re in the best position to help lead our members and the industry through this period of transformation. So you’ll see us launch new initiatives that are part of our efforts to stay ahead of the game.

Looking more broadly at the advertising industry, how are agencies changing amid the rise of digital and data?

I think that every agency is trying to be smarter, faster and more efficient. Today it’s about digital and data, yesterday it was something else. They are looking at new models and approaches and that’s a good thing. But there will never be a substitute for a great idea no matter who the players are or what their positioning is.

What are some other key issues/trends that are affecting 4A’s members? 

Talent. Attracting, nurturing and retaining talent is more and more difficult for agencies for a variety of reasons. We are competing with the Googles and the Facebooks for young, creative talent and we are competing against big salaries and the lure of something innovative and cutting edge. It’s an issue that agencies are grappling with and it’s challenging. I think the agencies best positioned for the future are the ones closest to cracking the code on talent.

What’s on the 4A’s agenda for Advertising Week?

We hosted a couple of panels called The Competitive Edge about culture and collaboration on Monday. Nancy will also sit on another panel or two and we’re also announcing our new Partner Awards at a cocktail party on Tuesday night. This is a new industry award that celebrate collaboration and creativity. It’s one of the initiatives we feel is forward looking and addresses a unique industry challenge and opportunity.