By Tim Burrowes
Attending conferences is a bit like giving birth. It’s hard work, you break all of your normal eating habits (I’m tucking into a chocolate brownie as I type) and you get to complain a lot. And, of course, if you remembered just how bad it can get, you’d never do it again. But you do.
Eating for two as the world’s eye turns on Dubai|~||~||~|Attending conferences is a bit like giving birth. It’s hard work, you break all of your normal eating habits (I’m tucking into a chocolate brownie as I type) and you get to complain a lot.
And, of course, if you remembered just how bad it can get, you’d never do it again. But you do.
So this week I joined 1999 or so other souls for the International Advertising Association World Congress in Dubai. And although it meant some sleepless nights, you had to love the little blighter.
Which is about as far as the childbirth analogy is going to stretch.
So how was it?
On the whole, the IAA will have been very pleased with what its Dubai chapter has achieved in organising the event. Nobody from the rest of the world will have missed what hosting the congress — and taking on the world presidency — has meant to The Holding Group boss Joseph Ghossoub. I could be wrong, but I’m pretty sure he even got tearful at one of the many dinners to mark the occasion.
And the opening of the event was certainly a stormer: lasers, back projection, front projection, whizzy videos and animation — it was almost up there with an Olympic opening show.
There were a couple of disappointments along the way. Sadly, opening keynote speaker Sir Martin Sorrell, the boss of WPP, had to cancel following a bereavement — it was so last minute that we spotted his driver standing forlornly at the airport holding up a sign for him several hours after his flight would have come in.
And Dentsu chief executive Tateo Mataki did not give any real insights into his vast advertising company. (You won’t be too astonished to learn that people, apparently, are Dentsu’s biggest asset.) Indeed, one gets the impression that it’s all about sensible strategy at Dentsu rather than flair. He set out Dentsu’s platform as building on four insights — client, media, consumer and social. Sensible, but not inspiring.
John Pallant of Saatchi & Saatchi gave a better insight into the mechanics behind the network’s rather more intriguing “Tribe” concept — where teams from around the world are pulled together for intensive sessions working on a particular client. The theory being that working with unfamiliar colleagues and against a tight deadline can deliver far fresher thinking.
Indeed, one of the most encouraging things about the conference — which, to be honest, was dominated by suits rather than creatives — was that it was a moment in Pallant’s presentation that generated some of the biggest applause of the conference. And the moment in question? The long version of Fallon London’s Sony Bravia TVC with the thousands of brightly coloured balls bouncing down the hill.
However, one tribute to creativity that didn’t quite come off was the hallway exhibition that was supposed to showcase the best of the world’s social issue advertising. It was far smaller and less of a talking point than the hype would have had us believe.
But a big talking point did come from Norman Pearlstine, one of America’s most respected journalists, with his track record as editor-in-chief of Time Inc. He was openly critical of what he saw of the partisan, anti-UAE stance taken by CNN
during its coverage of the controversial purchase of P&O by Dubai-owned DP World. All the more intriguing when you realise that both Time and CNN are members of the Time Warner family.
And top marks to the supporters of the conference for one more thing — the stands. They were a long way removed from the dull fare one usually expects at a trade show. Funky, high tech and, of course, laden with freebies. I think I may well have eaten my own weight in chocolate éclairs pilfered from the MindShare stand. I was definitely eating for two.||**||