While there are hundreds of talks happening across Advertising Week, there are some common threads during the industry’s massive annual gathering.
According to Mari Kim Novak, Advertising Week’s president, brands are playing a more prominent role in setting the agenda, both through their agencies and their technical partners. She said the conference never has a theme, choosing instead to curate talks based on the current needs of the industry.
“I think you’re going to see a really healthy cross section of our industry coming together,” she said. “We’re seeing this in probably most of the industry right now—where there’s so much change and a lot of disruption—that you’re really seeing the brands take the center stage.”
Novak, who early on in her career in ad tech began audience measurement for Microsoft and spent 10 years in charge of the marketing for the company’s advertising business—from banner ads to social for the Windows phone. She moved on to Rubicon Project, getting another perspective of ad tech that’s become simultaneously increasingly popular and complex.
Novak highlighted these important themes playing out across the event’s Times Square venues.
Having diverse panels has been a problem in the past, including a 2015 panel entirely comprised of white people to discuss diversity in advertising. However, this year, diversity of race and thought seems to be at least somewhat more prominent.
According to Novak, the executive team of the conference has sought diversity among its panelists, achieving a nearly balanced gender ratio of speakers this year. Panels have also made a more concerted effort to include more discussions about race and LGBT issues.
The week kicked off with a conversation between media mogul Ariana Huffington and Francis Frei, Harvard’s “gender warrior” that recently joined Uber as its new svp of leadership and strategy. On Tuesday, a talk entitled “Woke, Lit & Ready: A Perspective on Black Twitter and the Ad Industry” focused on how the social network is home to discussions about racial diversity and what agencies and media companies can learn from it.
“We don’t want to just sit around and talk about gender equality or work life balance with six women sitting on stage,” Novak said. “We’re really advancing the conversation in the sense of why is diversity important, how does that change our culture, and how does it change your decision making in a corporate setting.”