Advertising Week New York celebrates 15 years in 2018 and CEO Matt Scheckner has been there since the beginning. The Manhattan-based event spans over four days and always counts among its attendees and speakers many of marketing’s heavy hitters. Since 2004 Advertising Week, which is managed by Stillwell Partners, has expanded across the globe and now includes events in Latin America, Asia and Europe. Scheckner co-founded both Advertising Week and Stillwell Partners and remains heavily involved in the production of the global event platform. AList, in partnership with our friends at AW360, spoke with Scheckner about the humble beginnings of Advertising Week and where it’s headed.

How did Advertising Week begin?

A random phone call in July of 2002. Abby Hirschhorn, DDB Worldwide CMO, was looking for a big idea in support of an effort led by 4A’s Chairman Ken Kaess and CEO O. Burtch Drake to attract young talent, boost the image and morale of the industry, and reaffirm New York as a global advertising hub.

The first-ever meeting about Advertising Week offered a preview of the future. A thought leadership foundation, environment and experience were all established as key anchors of the game plan. And so, it was an October afternoon in 2002 in the Roxy Suite at Radio City Music Hall where it all began. Planning began in earnest in May of 2003 after it was agreed that the first-ever Advertising Week would take place in September of 2004. With long-time business partner Lance Pillersdorf and a small team, Advertising Week opened its doors for the first time with such venues as NASDAQ, the Museum of Television & Radio and a memorable first Opening Gala at Gracie Mansion hosted by Mayor Mike Bloomberg.

What did you do before Advertising Week?

At 23 I was the founding Executive Director of the New York Sports Commission. After time spent interning, I pitched Mayor Koch that New York City needed to recognize sport for what it was: a gateway to further economic development. Over 8 years we re-established New York as a center for big-time Olympic level competition and drafted winning bids for the 1993 Olympic Congress, and the 1998 Goodwill Games. The latter seems crazy when you look back. I spent the summer of ’94 in St Petersburg with luminaries like Ted Turner, Boris Yeltsin and Governor Mario Cuomo.

Since 2004, how much have you seen the industry change? 

In the years since The Week began, the smartphone has marched forth and become the standard. Anyone with access to a laptop and Internet connection is able to understand, reach and engage potential consumers. Brands can have real-time conversations with their customers whilst they interact with websites, mobile apps and platforms. Today’s advertising and marketing skill set looks nothing like 2004’s.

On September 27, 2004 when Advertising Week kicked off, Mark Zuckerberg was still on the Harvard campus. The iPhone was two years away and YouTube was three years away. Without exception, none of the tech-driven innovations which have re-shaped consumer behaviour and our industry were on the radar, or existed in any form, in 2004.

In many ways, I consider the timing of Advertising Week incredibly lucky. As it has evolved in New York City and everywhere else, Advertising Week has become a mirror of our industry and of the broader arena of business and popular culture. It has also become the place where the agenda is set for the year and where the most difficult and challenging issues facing our business – and often broader society – are tackled head on. Navigating change really sums it all up, and so much has changed from September of 2004.

Who are some of the musical acts you’ve had at events over the years?

In no order whatsoever: Jon Stewart and Curb Your Enthusiasm star, Susie Essman, at Jazz at Lincoln Center and Gnarls Barkley at the old Nokia Theater in 2006. Bruno Mars, Outkast, LCD Soundsystem, Alessia Cara, Pharrell Williams, Dua Lipa, Mark Ronson, Wyclef Jean, Ziggy Marley, Rita Ora, Sting, Nas, John Legend, The Roots, Snoop Dogg, Amy Schumer, Jimmy Fallon, Lewis Black, J. B. Smoove, Pete Holmes, Trevor Noah, Jeff Ross, and so many more. All have graced Advertising Week stages.

What do the next 15 years look like?

Well, let’s start with 2018. New players have emerged as kings and queens, others have disappeared, and the flow of ad dollars has rapidly shifted from traditional to emerging platforms. But what has not changed is the power of big ideas, good old-fashioned creativity, the influence of disruptors and innovators and our fundamental need as people to be inspired.

Looking ahead, no one can say how the future will play out, but as it unfolds, Advertising Week will be there every step of the way. And with our learning platform just around the corner, AWLearn will provide year-round engagement. It’s never been a more exciting time.