I admit it: I am totally a fangirling on #ANAMedia. Often asked for recommendations on the “must attend” events in digital, media and advertising, ANA has topped my list for the last several years.

In an industry glutted with summits and conferences, ANA Media, held this week in Florida, proved it's the far-and-away leader. Here’s why:

  1. Pinnacle of smart programming. Content is thoughtfully curated and purposefully provocative (more on that in a moment). The agenda is tight and offers the right mix of practitioner case studies, industry research and fireside chats. Thankfully, it also eschews (or at least limits) the tired and often-unsatisfying panel format. Attendees are guaranteed to leave ANA Media with actionable insights about their craft. As I told ANA President Bob Liodice on my way out this morning, their programming team is doing it right.
  2. Intimacy drives engagement. Don’t get me wrong, I love the spectacle that is Masters of Marketing, the ANA’s flagship event each October. I love the see-and-be-seen-by-the-who’s-who-ness of it all. I love that I can reliably count on being brought to tears within the first thirty minutes (and at least a few more times throughout) as we watch highlight reels of some of our industry’s best and most meaningful work. And, of course, as CMO, I love the efficacy of reaching so many prospects, customers and partners all in one highly productive, three-day span. But. I might be more in love with the smaller size of ANA Media. I heard this reflected by other attendees over breaks and drinks this week. Less overwhelming, less of a zoo, more approachable, more manageable. And also, perhaps, more open dialogue. (And I don’t just mean after “three glasses of wine” a remark used multiple times by keynoters lamenting what it takes to get practitioners to admit just how broken our industry is).
  3. Catalytic content. Most important, the ANA is surfacing the bellwether topics of this business. For the last three years, ANA Media has yielded at least one seminal speech that galvanized meaningful dialogue and was the impetus for tangible change. Here’s the proof:
    • Programmatic is the buzzword of the conference, but viewability dominates the discussion as the Media Ratings Council (MRC) shares the standards and definitions needed to buy display advertising based on viewable impressions. We still haven’t solved for viewability (it remains a topic of concern two years later), but this conference and its resulting media coverage helped place the topic front and center as advertisers realized they weren’t getting what they paid for.
    • Jon Mandel’s blistering takedown on transparency is unforgettable. In case you somehow missed it or the firestorm it generated, the former agency exec eviscerated agencies with allegations of kickbacks, undisclosed incentives and rebates. And while the he-said-she-said continues, this presentation had undeniable impact: Reviewmaggedon. Whether you believe those agency reviews had anything to do with transparency or not, Brian Wieser, Senior Analyst at Pivotal Research and arguably the smartest-guy-in-the-room about the state of our industry, commented in his keynote that most of the reviews were announced in the six weeks following the ANA Media event.
    • This year’s mic drop moment was the lively, frank, f-bomb-filled keynote by Gary Vaynerchuk: self-made millionaire turned media mogul. Almost nothing was safe from scorn: TV, banner ads, programmatic, attribution, holding company agencies. There were LOLs and outright applause as he called out the industry. The speech was essentially an anti-establishment rallying cry, warning that by “romanticizing” familiar channels, brands and their agencies were not “Marketing in the Year in Which We Live”. Vaynerchuk asserted the new model is “day-trading for attention” with only one metric that matters: sales. The audience was fired up and clearly found the candor refreshing. How much will actually change remains to be seen, though it’s safe to predict a spate of new clients for VaynerMedia. And, perhaps, more willingness for brands to embrace experimentation.

Hats off to the ANA. As the preeminent industry association for brand marketers, it’s clear they take their job as steward, shepherd and advocate seriously. I’d assert that ANA Media can now arguably claim to be doing more to impact our industry than any other event I can think of. It actually earns the adjective "ground-breaking". This programming team has proven, time and again, they can produce an event that not just starts conversation, but motivates actual change.

As an “authentic achiever,” I’m rooted in the belief that we can always, always do better. (My very wise husband would say I can find something wrong with a sunny day.) So here’s my wish list for future ANA events: bring us more B2B content as well as “challenger” brands getting it done without big budgets.

Finally, of course, I don’t attend all the possible events in the industry – I have neither the budget, bandwidth nor desire to do so. But definitely interested in feedback– if for no other reason that I’d love to know what I’m missing!