OCT 19, 2023

10 Insights from Symposia23 Global Summit


Our bi-annual Global Summit took place in Athens, Greece last week. The theme of the event was Symposia, an homage to the types of academic and cultural celebrations that took place in Ancient Greece more than two millennia ago. Symposia can be translated to mean “to drink together” and that we did, but the true core of the summit was found in the intellectual conversations on art, philosophy, technology, and science and stimulating discussions on the impact advertising has on driving culture. 

Below are the ten insights we learned during the conversations at the three-day event.

1. Tech Must Be Used As a Lever to Do More

According to Trends and Transformation Expert Tom Goodwin, we are “digitally constipated” (a phrase I didn’t know I needed in my life, but have now vowed to use at least once a day!). What Tom meant by that glorious phrase is that we’ve added technology to our lives, but haven’t actually allowed it to change how we live those lives. 

Our digital future, however, is bright, so long as we can fully embrace the change that matters and use it to do more. Many people are still threatened by the possibilities of technology, most notably with AI today, but Tom explained that the real threat comes when you see technology as a way to accept less effort. Rather, he urged us to be curious and use it to do what’s not been sensible before. 

2. Taking Care of You Should be Your #1 Priority 

Over the past few years, there has been a positive trend toward seeing mental and emotional health as an important piece of overall workplace well-being. Company leaders are creating policies and providing benefits that focus on balancing work-life priorities, decreasing stress, and increasing job satisfaction. Yet with all of this positive movement from company leadership, there is one group that often gets left behind – the leaders themselves. 

High Stakes Leadership Mentor Sally Henderson forced us to turn inward to evaluate whether we are taking care of and trusting ourselves to be the leaders our teams need. While most leaders would quickly state “Certainly I do,” Sally helped us to understand when, where, and how our actions oftentimes disprove that, and what we must do to take control. As the flight attendants reminded us all on our way to Athens - you need to put your own oxygen mask on first before attempting to help others. 

3. There are Two “I”s in Authenticity

We all know the phrase “there’s no ‘I’ in team” and that may be well and true. But it doesn’t apply when it comes to creating authenticity on your personal LinkedIn profile.

In an eye-opening workshop, LinkedIn Expert Richard van der Blom provided numerous insights, tips, and secrets on how to transform LinkedIn from a mundane social network into a dynamic business tool. Most notably, he shared data on how personal stories using “I” not “we” outperformed business-focused posts, and explained why you should be giving away 99% of your knowledge ungated, for free. I have at least two pages of notes on what I’m doing wrong, and how to get it right. We all have our work cut out for us!

4. Great Ideas Don’t Wear Out, They Wear In

System 1 Group’s Jon Evans shared several insights gleaned from their ad creative testing platform, but the one that felt most fitting for the environment was one of constancy and staying power. 

Too often we look to reinvent campaigns with all new creative, but Jon’s team found ads that start with a really great idea don’t go stale with repeated use. Instead, reinforcing the creative by using it again (with perhaps some small tweaks) can actually make it perform better in the long term. 

The same can be said of great cities. 5000 years of artistic and intellectual Athenian ideas would have to agree.

5. Baklava Can Be Eaten at Every Meal

Seeking out ancient ruins through the winding streets of Plaka. Hoofing it up to the Acropolis slope. Attempting the high kicks in traditional Greek dancing. You can burn a lot of calories in a single day in Athens, so you should absolutely enjoy all of the goat cheese, olive oil, lamb, and baklava you can fit in your stomach at every meal (yes, even breakfast). Opa!

6. Get In The Business of Transforming Business

Worldwide Partners President and CEO John Harris reminded us that only 5% of a CMO’s job is centered on content and media today. The other 95% is focused on new markets, distribution, product, packaging, pricing, ecommerce, customer service, and other things that cement brands in people’s lives. 

To help CMOs with this majority, 12x Cannes Lion winner and former Executive Creative Director of Google Steve Vranakis urged attendees to stop saying they’re simply in marketing and advertising, and get into the business of transforming other people’s businesses. 

7. Diversity is About Humanity 

Stoltz Marketing Group’s Tracy Hitchcock, Doable’s Hugh Boyle, and Brand Advance Group’s Chris Kenna sat down for a powerful and nuanced panel on diversity, equity inclusion, and belonging. 

What made this conversation unique was not necessarily any revelatory statements or insights, but rather that each panelist started off by sharing their personal and quite emotional stories on what led them to the stage. It created a more open and vulnerable discussion that backed up Tracy’s culminating point: "We have to help one another see one another as humans.”

8. Transparency Sets Us Apart

There are many things that make our events different than other industry events or meetings. But perhaps the most special thing, for our events and our network in general, is the transparency within our community. 

Our partners are comfortable sharing the real stories, the real numbers, the real situations with each other. Like the recent M&A experiences that Rick Milenthal of The Shipyard and Stephen Brown of FUSE Create shared on stage with Agency Futures' Doug Baxter. 

Our speakers don’t hold back in sharing their provocative opinions and exclusive expertise, like Jon Evans providing detailed learnings on the specific features that make advertising most impactful and why. 

And our clients are willing to get up on stage and state, without hesitation, the behaviors they want from their agency partners and the benefits that independent agencies provide, like Staci Mellman of Brand USA did. 

This transparency from all parties is truly refreshing. There are no egos. No competition. No fear. Only open, honest, and oftentimes vulnerable conversations for the benefit of all.  

9. Clients Need a More “Networked” Network

John Harris shared some unsettling data from a recently released report from The World Federation of Advertisers – one-quarter of international brands believe their media agency model is unfit for future purposes. That’s because what brands need in the future (but really they need it today) is specialized capabilities, seamless integration, and accelerated speed. 

They may say they need a network, but what they’re really searching for is a better network – a more “networked” network. One that offers the talent, agility, and speed required in today’s global economy, not a bloated, overly complex structure. One that is driven by shared values and a shared agenda, not a shared balance sheet. One that gives brands only the things they need, not every thing. John showed – through increased scale, diversification, and collaboration – how Worldwide Partners is this more networked model that brands need now, and in the future. 

10. No Bad Views in Athens

The Acropolis can be seen from pretty much everywhere in the city 24 hours a day. It’s an awe-inspiring beacon of the city’s enduring impact on art, creativity, and culture. 

Yet, if you somehow find yourself in a spot without a direct view, look around and you’re likely to see other markers of enlightenment from both ancient and modern times. If you don’t believe me, check out this gorgeous work that Steve Vranakis shared during his time with Google, proving that the city of Athens itself is a museum.

Our community of independent agencies, world-class speakers, and industry-leading sponsors fully embraced the Symposia theme in Athens this past week. The Global Summit was filled with intellectual discussions on the art, philosophy, technology, and science of advertising, and how our network and our industry can be a force for good in driving cultural change today and, if we’re as successful as the Ancient Greeks, for millennia to come.

Written By:
Angie Pascale