Chicago Sun-Times
Lewis Lazare follows Chicago media and marketing news

January 2009 Archives

09CWS_Billboard.pdfWe all know some of America's best baseball players hail from Latin America. So to pay tribute to all that the region has done for the game, the Chicago White Sox have put up a large billboard tribute in left field at the Casas Geo Stadium in Mexicali, Mexico, where the Caribbean Series baseball tournament will unfold from Feb. 2 through 7.

The billboard copy "El Beisbol con Orgullo" translates as "Baseball With Pride." The accompanying image of White Sox Manager Ozzie Guillen surely needs no translation. The White Sox signage is believed to be the first instance of a Major League Baseball team having a significant presence at the Mexican basebal event.

Jeez. As if working in the newspaper business wasn't already difficult enough for the rapidly dwindling number of souls left in the trenches, the bankrupt Chicago Tribune has gone and established a whole new set of rather over-the-top staff performance review standards that will take effect immediately. In a memo to Trib staff sent out on Jan. 19, Associate Editor Jocelyn Winnecke was kind enough to lay out the new guidelines and goals that apparently will be a factor in every staffer's performance reviews going forward.

The first item on Winnecke's list is "digital first." By that Winnecke means every Trib employee will be expected to "think and act first as a member of a digital newsroom that also publishes newspapers." Guess that tells us pretty clearly how -- and how dramatically -- the Trib's priorities have shifted. But there's more. Winnecke told the staff they will be expected to "deliver on mission," meaning each staffer's daily goals will now be local relevance, watchdog reporting, personal utility (whatever that is?), consumer guidance, visual drama and compelling storytelling.

On top of those requirements, employees also will be judged on how well they "embrace change by seeking out new and innovative ideas that serve key audiences and move the Chicago Tribune forward." Whew! Winnecke also informed staff that "urgency" now matters. By that, of course, she means "managing time effectively to achieve highest-possible efficiency." In other words, Tribsters, you better learn to do more work faster.

And last, but surely not least, Winnecke in her memo suggested that if staff hope to receive a positive performance review, they better make sure they have a good attitude because, as Winnecke put it, "positive attitude is crucial to our changing culture and all that must be accomplished for our company to be successful."

So get cracking -- with a smile -- Tribsters. That first performance review with the new guidelines is set for July.

Schafer Condon Carter/Chicago and Leo J. Shapiro & Associates, a Chicago-based national market research company, have formed a strategic partnership to capture and deliver consumer behavior insights to marketers. Initially, the two firms will conduct a national monthly survey of consumers that focuses on top-of-mind market trends and influencing factors. A summary of key insights will be announced via news release, but marketers will be able to obtain more detailed findings by contacting either agency directly.

In conjunction with the announcement of the partnership, the two firms have released results of their first poll regarding consumer attitudes about spending during the current recession. The results indicate the ongoing threat of layoffs and living with less will dominate near-term behavior. The survey found that 51 percent of respondents said they've cut back their standard of living in the past month. Some 67 percent of respondents have cut back on clothing purchases, and 27 percent said they've cut back on medical expenses.

The results are based on a telephone survey of 450 United States households with a margin of error of plus or minus four percentage points.

Common Sense Media, a San Francisco-based company that rates and reviews television programming, took a hard look at televised NFL games over the past season. And to the surprise of nearly no one who watches football on television, CSM discovered a large percentage of ads that aired during games were hugely inappropriate for a family audience.

Over the course of the NFL season, the CSM team watched some 50 games and more than 5,000 commercials that aired during those games. When the numbers were crunched after the season ended, CSM found 40 percent of the game telecasts included at least one ad for an erectile dysfunction drug, and 46.5 percent of the house ads that networks showed for their own programming featured pronounced sexual overtones or excessive violence.

The CSM hopes the study will prompt the NFL and the networks to reconsider what kind of ads are allowed to run during football games, when many kids are included in the viewing audience. "When I go speak to groups, invariably someone will ask me why no one is doing anything about this," said James Steyer, founder and CEO of CSM. Steyer also indicated he has spoken to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell about the questionable advertising aired during games, but no indication yet what the football league or the networks might do about the matter.

X00240_9.JPGHardly unexpected. But very ugly. Late Wednesday, Leo Burnett/Chicago axed at least 75 staffers Wednesday, or about four percent of the workforce. Some put the number as high as 100.

A statement issued by the agency late Wednesday said the layoffs were part of an effort "to better position Leo Burnett USA to thrive during a time of accelerating change in our industry." Exactly the sort of drivel we would expect from an agency that has hardly been thriving during an extended period of gross mismanagement. That statement was accompanied by a memo to employees from Burnett President Rich Stoddart, who said the agency would continue to "invest in programs and resources to make this a place where creativity continues to flourish, our talent can continue to thrive." Even, we suppose, as depression grips those left to pick up the pieces.

The bloodbath comes in the wake of the embarrassing and crippling news that the agency had allegedly overbilled the United States Army during the time the huge account was at Burnett from 2000 to at least 2004. The agency chose to settle the case with the U.S. government to the tune of more than $15 million rather than litigate. Burnett also has been unable to haul in any substantial pieces of new business for a long time-- another troubling concern that has led to the perception the agency is in a downward spiral from which it cannot escape.

The massive number of layoffs Wednesday were believed to have affected numerous departments, but the creative department was said to have been hit especially hard. Burnett Worldwide CEO Tom Bernardin and Rich Stoddart, his top cop at Leo Burnett/Chicago, apparently weren't part of the purge.

But if Maurice Levy, the head of Burnett parent Publicis Groupe, hopes to turn around Burnett before it's too late, he finally will have to address the matter of Burnett's top management, who have abysmally failed what was at one time one of America's most legendary and respected ad agencies. But no longer can that be said to be the case.

A large portion of NBC-owned WMAQ-Channel 5's staff got the news Wednesday: the station is dramatically restructuring its news department. Per WMAQ Station Manager Frank Whittaker, the existing news department jobs of executive producer, producer, videotape editor and news writer are being eliminated. In their place, the station is introducing new jobs with the titles of daypart manager, platform manager and content producer.

These new jobs presumably will allow the station to more effectively -- and efficiently -- deliver the news on a variety of platforms, including, of course, the traditional TV newscast, the station's constantly-evolving Web site and, potentially, mobile devices and even gas station pump monitors where NBC has a contract to deliver content. Unaffected by the announced changes are the station's on-air talent, who will pretty much continue to do what they do in front of the camera.

To achieve this restructuring, Whittaker said all the staff who had jobs with the titles being eliminated (many of whom are unionized) are being asked to re-apply for new jobs with WMAQ. Station management will then assess each applicant's skills and determine if he or she can fit into one of the new job categories. Whittaker said some staff might have to go through retraining to fit into the new structure, while others might opt not to re-apply and leave the station altogether. Still others may not be rehired.

Whittaker said WMAQ is following in the footsteps of sister station WNBC in New York, which has already gone through this kind of restructuriing. "It worked well for them covering the plane crash in the Hudson River, so we think it will work well here too," said Whittaker, who also conceded some staffers might not be happy about what the local station is doing. Even so, said Whittaker, "I think all of them understand this business has to change."

However, other sources in the local television market reacted somewhat cynically to the news of WMAQ's staff restructuring. "I can sort of see what they're trying to do, but in the end I think this may be more about trying to eliminate more jobs and get rid of deadwood than it is about anything else," said another local broadcast executive.


'Veggie Love': PETA's Banned Super Bowl Ad


People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has done it again. While the debate rages on in more enlightened circles about how much good PETA actually does, the Washington, D.C-based animal rights organization has proved once more that it is hugely adept at instantly creating controversy. Witness the TV commercial the organization released to the world on Wednesday -- along with the news that NBC had banned the spot from the Super Bowl telecast on Sunday.

It's not hard to understand why NBC readily helped PETA in its bid to stir up controversy. The banned commercial features several buxom women in sexy lingerie fondling a variety of vegetables. The montage of suggestive veggie sex imagery is set to a pounding rock score that makes the visuals appear even more lurid than they really are. The commercial ends with the message "Studies Show: Vegetarians Have Better Sex" without clearly referencing whatever study produced this surprising and dubious bit of news.

While the spot is sure to stir the blood of those who like their advertising heavily laced with titillation, it really does nothing to further the cause of animal rights. Instead it has sparked a frenzy in the blogosphere over the TV commercial's unabashedly sexual, yet totally pointless content and NBC's move to ban it from sports' biggest event. In the meantime, we are left to ponder whether PETA really would have forked over the $3 million to buy the airtime to run the spot during the Super Bowl, if that indeed was ever the organization's real intention.

For now, though, PETA isn't talking. It's just letting the controversey rather tiresomely play itself out, which we're sure it will do in short order.

Jim Sabia.jpgIs Jim Sabia destined to ditch the familiar, low-key advertising that has become synonymous with Corona beer in this country? Today, Chicago-based Crown, which distributes Corona beer in the United States, said Sabia is coming on board as Crown's new executive vice-president of marketing. Sabia previously led marketing efforts at Constellation Spirits, where he worked on campaigns for Effen vodka, Black Velvet Canadian Whiskey and other brands.

But previous to his two-year stint with Constellation, Sabia was vice-president of marketing at MolsonCoors and was involved in United States marketing efforts for Coors Light and Coors Banquet brands. While at Coors, Sabia no doubt learned the value of pounding home key brand selling points in advertising. Coors harps incessantly on its so-called "cold refreshment" attribute. Many observers believe that approach to advertising has helped Coors hold its own in the intensely competitive beer category.

Though it remains the top imported beer in America, Corona's sales figures have dropped the past couple of years. That has prompted some concern that Crown might have to make changes in the way the Mexican beer is marketed. If that proves to be the case, it will no doubt be a shock to the system of many who work on the Corona account at Cramer-Krasselt/Chicago, an agency that has done a nice job of sustaining Corona's quiet, beach-themed style of advertising over the course of many years.

Whenever a client decides to make a change in advertising campaigns, the agency entrusted with finding a new approach always has to worry whether the new campaign will get the job done. C-K has been used to doing a certain type of ads for Corona for a very long time, so the challenge could be even greater, if Sabia decides he wants to shake up things.

Circus (Budweiser).jpegBarring an unexpected last minute change of heart, Anheuser-Busch's lineup of seven Super Bowl commercials is set and ready to go. In a follow-up conference call Tuesday with the media, A-B creative honcho Bob Lachky laid out the final selection of seven commercials totalling 4 minutes, 30 seconds of airtime. All but one of the spots were developed by DDB/Chicago. A seventh spot called "Generations," which talks about how the iconic Clydesdales made it to America, comes from the Waylon agency in St. Louis. A-B's Super Bowl mix includes two 60-second spots and five 30-second commercial.

Interestingly, the partial lineup of commercials Lachky unveiled a couple of weeks ago did not include a Bud Light spot called "Meeting," but it is now in the mix and slotted in the key post-kick-off slot. Though it is part of the new "Drinkability" campaign, "Meeting" looks and feels a lot more like one of the old-fashioned Bud Light spots, with a very blunt visual gag at the end. It's the kind of spot that doesn't require a lot of thought or reaction time. And it's not subtle, but that's pretty much what made most of the so-called old-fashioned Bud Light work so popular with Super Bowl viewers and others.

The "Generations" Clydesdale spot that is now solidly in the Super Bowl lineup has some nicely-wrought ad copy in it, but not all the efforts at visual humor work as well as they could. Hard to say whether "Generations" or "Circus," which recounts a Clydesdale romance in somewhat epic fashion, will prove the more popular of the three Clydesdale spots in the Super Bowl mix. For our money, however, the Bud Light spot with Conan O'Brien still is the best all-around Anheuser-Busch effort in this year's Super Bowl.

X00093_7.JPGDana Anderson has bounced back. After being pushed out as CEO of DDB/Chicago some 18 months ago, Anderson is back at packaged goods giant Kraft. Anderson has been named Kraft's senior vice-president of marketing, responsible for strategy and communication. It appears she will work closely with Kraft's roster of ad agencies and help them sharpen their various ad strategies. Anderson reports to Kraft Chief Marketing Officer Mary Beth West.

Since Irene Rosenfeld's ascension to the top CEO post at Kraft, there has been considerable flux within the company's marketing department -- a result, it seems, of Rosenfeld's constantly-evolving efforts to turn around a company that had been seen as a laggard in the food business for far too long.

For pretty much the entirety of Anderson's career, which spans stints at JWT/Chicago and the former Foote, Cone & Belding/Chicago before DDB, Anderson worked closely with Kraft and a number of its brands But it is Miracle Whip, perhaps more than any other Kraft brand, that Anderson knows best. She even managed to lure the account to DDB/Chicago during her troubled tenure there. But the work DDB produced was lacking in creative smarts, and Kraft quickly moved the business out of the agency.

Unlike DDB, where observers say Anderson never found her groove because she never fully understood that agency's culture, Kraft is a culture Anderson knows very well. She had been doing consulting work for Kraft since her ouster from DDB in 2007. It's unclear, at this juncture, what impact Anderson will have on Kraft's relationship with all the agencies on its roster. But she's certain to make life inside a Kraft a bit livelier. When she's "on," Anderson possesses a wicked wit, and she can truly dazzle when she is making a presentation to a room of people.

turkey timer2.jpgFor as long as we've known him, Tom Duff, president of post-production house Optimus/Chicago, has always been about trying to elevate the Chicago ad industry. Make it stronger. More creative.

One of Duff's latest projects, the Optimus One Shot contest, has just concluded. First announced last August, the project was conceived to help spotlight some of the best emerging creative talent in Chicago. Participation was limited to local creatives with five or fewer years of advertising experience.

The brief for the contest called for the creation of a television spot that captured the feeling and/or act of being done. No brand name was attached to the brief, because, secretly, Duff was looking for a spot to promote Optimus as a place where a TV commercial is finished -- where a spot is finally "done."

Duff told us he received 34 contest entries in the form of scripts for a spot. A panel of judges -- directors Frank Todaro and Aaron Ruell and two creative teams from Goodby, Silverstein & Partners/San Francisco and Fallon/Minneapolis -- assessed the entries and chose the winning script, which was to be fully produced. The winning script came from Jane Ackerson and Nate DeLeon of DDB/Chicago, who, we're told, had never before had a TV commercial fully produced.

Their finished spot, "Done," features a montage of scenes that express being done or done-in, including a young man who fails to make the cut in a spelling bee, a turkey that is just at that perfect state of doneness in the oven, a deer that is about to be done in by an approaching vehicle and a group of young runners who are finally done as they drag themselves across the finish line.

That moment of doneness is visually reinforced in each scene by a little round red plastic device typically implanted in turkeys and designed to pop up when the fowl is done. But in the winning TV spot the device pops up on the backs of humans and animals as well.

There's a wistful, elegiac feeling about the finished commercial -- made more so by the unhurried editing and somber music. But "Done" holds one's attention and draws in the viewer. All in all, not a bad start in the realm of television commercials.

Lew's Ad News

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Here's a question the Chicago ad community should be asking a lot nowadays: "So Now What Do We Do?". It's just happens to be the topic of a Chicago Advertising Federation panel discussion set for this Wednesday at Rockit, 22 W. Hubbard. Slated to appear on the panel are several ad people who are succeeding in the local ad market through efforts that mostly don't involve traditional television spots and print ads. Panelists include Bob Thacker of OfficeMax, Heidi Skinner of Critical Mass, Jim Coudal of Coudal Partners and Roy Skillicom of Seed/Backyard Productions. Another possible panelist coud be Billy Dec of Rockit Ranch Productions, Cocktails commence at 5 p.m. on Wednesday, with the discussion set to begin at 6:15. Kevin Lynch, founder and managing partner of Zig/Chicago, is co-chairing the panel. Lynch leaves Zig for good on Feb. 9.

Steve Conner has joined DraftFCB/Chicago as senior vice-president, group creative director. Conner will co-lead efforts for the Kraft account. Conner most recently was a freelance consultant working with companies to fine tune their brands for the age of convergence.

The Chicago Advertising Federation Young Professionals group has named its board for 2009. Director of the group is Stephanie Kelly from DraftFCB. Co-director is Stacie Dunn of Blue Chip.

Chicago-based Wilson Golf has reached agreements with United States players Ricky Barnes and Brad Adamonis to use Wilson Staff clubs. The duo joins Wilson Staff player Padraig Harrington, re-signed a multi-year deal in October, 2008.

Midway Moving and Storage has inked a five-year endorsement deal with Chicago Bulls' guard Ben Gordon. The agreement strengthens Midway's reputation as Chicago's hometown mover.

Mary K. Young is joining public relations firm Edelman as executive vice-president, food and nutrition communications. Previously, Young was vice-president of nutrition for the National Cattlemen's Beef Association. In her new job at Edelman Young will contribute to thought leadership in food and nutrition.

117203PST-L3.p1.jpgYoung & Rubicam/Chicago hasn't had an easy time of it trying to create coherent ad campaigns for its largest client Sears, primarily because the struggling Hoffman Estates-based retailer hasn't been able to establish a coherent identity on which to base compelling brand advertising. So it's nice to see Y & R has been given a chance to work on an ad campaign for the River North Chicago Dance Co. that gives the agency a better chance to show off its creative chops.

Breaking this month, the River North campaign's theme line is "Choreographer: Chicago." The poster ads use eye-catching photography to express the creative heart and soul of the River North troupe, one of our city's liveliest, sexiest and most creatively-accessible dance companies. The imagery in three different executions catches actual River North dancers in very unusual contortions that evoke the real spirit and gritty style of Chicago. One poster features a shot of a woman holding on to a gentleman as she is blown aloft by a strong wind in a snowy park setting. Another catches a young lady in the door of a subway car doing an impressive leg extension. And the third poster, perhaps the most gripping of the lot, captures two guys fighting --in a very choreographed fashion -- in a bar.

As wonderfully realized as the visuals are, the ad posters fall short in one regard: the layouts unfortunately don't satisfactorily communicate the name of the product for which they were created. "River North Chicago Dance Company" is set in smallish type in the upper right hand corner of the posters. The troupe's name needs to be a much more visible for the dance company to reap the full value of these ads. River North, by the way, is set to perform next on Feb. 13 and 14, at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance in Millennium Park.

WGN-AM (720) and Northwestern University have extended their sports broadcast agreement for an additional four years. Fans of Northwestern Wildcats football and basketball will be able to hear games on WGN through the 2012-13 season. WGN Sports Director Dave Eanet will continue as the Wildcats' play-by-play announcer, a role he has filled for the past 19 years. Eanet is a Northwestern alumnus and a 2005 Northwestern Athletic Hall of Fame honorary inductee.

If this is Kevin Metheny's idea of a clever publicity stunt, it doesn't bode well for his tenure as WGN-AM (720) programming director. Recently named to that position by WGN Vice President and General Manager Tom Langmyer, Metheny took to the WGN airwaves Friday afternoon to announce that the Tribune Co. news/talk radio station is offering its currently-vacant 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. radio show to Rod and Patti Blagojevich. WGN's early afternoon host slot was recently vacated by John Williams, who is now the station's morning drive anchor.

Metheny's stunt would be a lot cuter if he had gotten to it first. Problem is, WLS-AM (890) got there first a couple days ago when it offered Gov. Blagojevich a Sunday radio show if he would resign. To our knowledge, Metheny did not explicitly state the Governor had to resign to get the WGN gig, but the WGN programming director must have assumed Blagojevich couldn't effectively do both jobs at once, even with his wife helping out on the radio.

Metheny may have felt compelled to make the job offer to Blagojevich and his wife because the WLS offer, which was widely publicized, was initiated by WLS Programming Director Bob Shomper, whom Metheny replaced at WGN. WLS, which has recently added Mancow Muller and Pat Cassidy to its lineup of on-air talent, is locked in a battle for listeners and ratings with WGN. So Metheny must have been more than a little miffed when Shomper and WLS grabbed the headlines and pulled focus from WGN.

The Illinois Lottery has awarded Energy BBDO/Chicago its general market advertising contract for an initial term of two years, with two one-year renewals possible. Billings on the account are around $21 million annually. Energy BBDO beat out two other finalists for the Lottery contract -- Marc USA/Chicago and JWT/Chicago.

Per terms of the contract, Energy BBDO and Omnicom Group partners OMD and the Integer Group will assist the Lottery with strategic planning, media planning and buying, creative development, promotion and Web site development. Energy BBDO takes over the Illinois Lottery advertising account at a time of great upheaval within Illinois government. The impeachment trial of Gov. Rod Blagojevich is set to start Monday. If Blagojevich is eventually removed from office, the fallout will be felt throughout state government, including the Lottery.

In recent years, the Illinois Lottery and its advertising have been a focus of some controversy. Several years ago, DDB/Chicago, another Omnicom Group agency, won the Illinois Lottery account and then resigned the business amid allegations Lottery officials were pressuring the agency to target African Americans in the advertising DDB was asked to create.

Carol Fowler PHOTO.JPGCarol Fowler has been named news director at Fox's WFLD-Channel 32. She replaces Andrew Finlayson, who has been named director of online content and business development for the Fox Television Stations.

Fowler, who starts her new job at Fox on Feb. 2, is resurfacing just weeks after she was fired as the news director at CBS-owned WBBM-Channel 2. Fowler had been at WBBM for six years, but was unable to boost the station in the ratings.

Finlayson had come to WFLD three years ago from a Nashviille, Tenn. station, where he was also news director. WFLD Vice President and General Manager Patrick Mullen called Fowler "one of Chicago's most experienced and accomplished news directors."

WLS-AM wants Gov. Rod Blagojevich

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26536822H11642685.JPGBob Shomper, the respected radio programming director who recently jumped from WGN-AM (720) to WLS-AM (890), is wasting no time shaking things up at the station No, he hasn't thrown any of the Citadel Broadcasting news/talk station's on-air talent out on the street. Quite the opposite. Shomper wants to bring in a new talent -- none other than our state's embattled Gov. Rod Blagojevich. But there's a quid pro quo. Shomper wants to offer Blagojevich his own radio show from 12 noon to 2 p.m. each Sunday -- if the governor resigns from office.

Shomper made the offer during the "Don & Roma Show" on WLS Thursday morning. Shomper is hoping the governor will take the station up on the offer and spare the state and its residents the embarrassment and expense of forcibly removing Blagojevich from office. Unless Blagojevich resigns soon, an impeachment trial is set to begin Monday in the Illinois Senate.

Though a dark cloud is hanging over Blagojevich, Shomper believes the governor has appeal as a radio host. "In spite of his low approval ratings, people want to hear what he has to say," said Shomper. The WLS programming director may be on to something. We just wonder if Blagojevich would include a poetry reading in each week's edition of his show.

NH BBDO color.jpgEnergy BBDO/Chicago Chief Creative Officer Dan Fietsam moved Wednesday to buttress his creative department with the addition of Noel Haan as a group creative director. Haan, who enjoys a favorable reputation as one of the Chicago's better advertising art directors, was most recently employed as a group creative director at Cramer-Krasselt/Chicago. But Haan was said to have become a bit disenchanted with C-K and its creative leadership. Prior to C-K, Haan was a creative at Leo Burnett/Chicago for 12 years during a time when Fietsam also worked at what was once the city's largest shop.

While at Burnett, Haan was a key player on the Altoids account, which, while small, was a showcase account for the agency. After the Wm. Wrigley Jr. chewing gum behemoth acquired Altoids, the account was yanked from Burnett and put at a west coast shop for a brief while, before Wrigley moved Altoids to Energy BBDO. With Haan's move to Energy BBDO, some observers immediately speculated Fietsam went after him to help out on Altoids, for which Energy BBDO is said to be trying to develop new work that is acceptable to Wrigley. But on Wednesday, Fietsam insisted Haan's hiring had nothing to do with Altoids. "Noel is going to work on all our Bayer business," said Fietsam. The Bayer account includes work for Aleve, One-A-Day vitamins and the pharmaceutical's company's diabetes care unit.

The Tribune Co.'s flagship Chicago Tribune introduced a new newsstand product Monday, launching the Trib To-Go Edition in tabloid format. The paper was given out free, but will normally cost 75 cents daily and will not be available to home delivery subscribers.

So what do people think? Hard to say since they've disabled comments on Gerould Kern's letter to readers explaining the new edition.

What's also hard to figure out is to whom this new edition is for as it makes the third tab paper in Chicago after the Sun-Times, still only 50 cents, and44522208-19035831.jpg the Trib's own Red Eye, which distributes free Monday through Saturday. Clearly this is a dagger aimed at the heart of the Sun-Times, which has a 60-year history of being Chicago's commuter-friendly paper, but is it more of a death knell for the Red Eye? How much longer can the Trib prop up its, entertainment- and youth-oriented step-sister, itself touted as a full edition of the mothership?

At best it seems market confusion is the plan for single-copy sales, hoping a two-prong assault from the minimally circulated Tribune newsstand edition and the Red Eye can envelop the Sun-Times. But for a paper few people bought before, a new edition with a 25-cent price increase hardly seems like an incentive for readers to try something new.

They're working on it. A bankruptcy exit plan, that is. That was the big news that came out of a Tribune Co. bankruptcy court hearing in Wilmington, Del. on Friday. But Tribune Co. Chief Financial Officer Chandler Bigelow III seemed to whine a bit when he told an attorney for the bankruptcy trustee and some creditors present that the company is "facing very difficult cyclical and sector pressures in our key business." Whether he knows it or not, Bigelow wasn't telling anyone anything about the media business that hasn't been readily apparent for some time.

Questions were also directed to Bigelow about the status of the sale of the Chicago Cubs. And again, Bigelow didn't have much to report, except to say "we're making progress." Progress? We have lost track of how many deadlines for the Cubs sale have come and gone already, so who knows if the Tribune Co. is really making progress on that front.

One other concern surfaced during Friday's hearing -- a second so-called solvency opinion that reportedly was never released in connection with Sam Zell's acquisition of the Tribune Co. in late 2007. Solvency opinions are documents that review the value of a company's saleable assets and its liabilities, as well as cash flow capacity and ability to meet obligations as they come due. Trib attorneys and Bigelow reportedly were at a loss to explain why the second solvency opinion was never released. They indicated they could release it at a later date.

full-lickoff[1].jpgIt ain't pretty, but at least it's a competition involving some pretty high-profile athletes. On Sunday, football pros Eli and Peyton Manning will take on tennis greats Venus and Serena Williams in the latest edition of the ongoing "Double Stuf Lick Race," a commercial designed to see which of two teams can best twist, lick and dunk Oreos, a cookie brand that is a unit of Northfield-based Kraft Foods. The Williams sisters and the Peyton brothers are among the most intensely competitive athletes in professional sports today, so it's not surprising that this new commercial from DraftFCB does capture some of the natural intensity these stars bring to any competitive endeavor.

But this commercial is primarily an exercise in licking and dunking Oreos, so aside from the star power contained therein, this spot doesn't offer much that is visually interesting. Unless, of course, you find licking Oreos to be a gripping bit of business. There's also some silliness involving a punctured blimp, which provides the commercial's limp punch line. Anything for a yuck, you know.

This new star-powered Oreo spot is slated to debut during the NFC Championship Game on Sunday. And the spot, in part, will serve to advise fans of Oreo licking that they may win a trip to the championship lick race in July, and a private coaching session with the Manning brothers and Williams sisters. Now that kind of offer just might be enough to prompt a large number of viewers to start practicing up on their competitive licking.

Lew's view: C+

We apologize in advance to anyone who already believes WLS-AM (890) mid-morning host Mancow Muller is getting too much virtual ink in this newly-launched blog. But we must, for a moment, revisit the Muller item posted a few days ago about his appearance on an upcoming segment of "Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations" on the Travel Channel.

X00205_9-1.JPGAt the time Muller told us he took chef and TV personality Bourdain to the Silver Cloud restaurant in Bucktown, which Muller said was housed in a rail car. Well, we didn't find any reference to a rail car at the Silver Cloud Web site. But we figured Muller surely knew where he was eating, so we posted the item. Turns out we figured wrong. We heard from several readers questioning whether Muller had indeed dined at the Silver Cloud. Turns out readers were right to question the WLS radio host.

Muller's recollection is clearer now, we hope. Why the confusion at first? "I eat at both places," was Muller's explanation. He tells us he in fact dined with Bourdain at the Silver Palm, a restaurant located at 768 N. Milwaukee that is indeed housed in a vintage train car. Great.

One other thing. In our earlier post, we forget to mention that Bourdain apparently loved the Silver Palm's pork chop sandwich dolled up with bacon and a fried egg. Sounds like real Chicago chow all right.

Sam Zell's bankrupt Tribune Co., owner of the Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times as well as eight other major U.S. dailies, appears to be looking at outsourcing its foreign reporting to the Washington Post.
According to a report on the Wall Street Journal's Web site, talks have been underway for a month, but no deal has been reached. A deal could save the debt-ridden publishing giant millions by allowing it to close dozens of news bureaus in favor of Post content, the Journal reports. There could also be a modified collaboration or none at all if negotiations break down.
According to the Journal, a Tribune spokesman declined comment on a potential deal that would, if it went through, rework the foreign reporting operations of two of the top-10 circulation newspapers in the U.S.
Yet more desperate measures for an industry that knows no other kind.

Dorothy Tucker.jpgOf course all of Chicago's major television and news/talk radio stations will be trying to outdo each other covering Barack Obama's historic inauguration as the 44th President of the United States on Tuesday.

But reporter Dorothy Tucker may have one of the toughest -- and potentially more fascinating -- assignments among all the local broadcast reporters headed to Washington, D.C. Not only will she be covering the inauguration on Tuesday for CBS-owned WBBM-Channel 2, but she'll be doing all that after travelling to Washington, D.C. from Chicago on one of 10 buses carrying Illinois state congressman Danny Davis and a large group of Obama supporters. Tucker and the Davis bus cavalcade are currently slated to leave Chicago around 10 p.m. Sunday night.

Tucker hopes to document the mounting excitement as this band of Obama fans rolls toward Washington. And once in the nation's capital, Tucker wants to keep on recording her traveling companions' thoughts about all that is unfolding around them.

While on the bus, Tucker will file reports to WBBM via skype, one of the more cutting-edge transmission technologies out there now. It should be an interesting experiment in "you are there" journalism. We just hope Tucker hits Washington with enough energy left to keep on covering what is sure to be a very big event.

Interbrand Design Forum, a respected retail brand consultancy, released on Tuesday its first-ever ranking of the 50 most valuable American retail brands.

And guess which retailer didn't even make the top 50? Yes, that would be Sears, the Hoffman Estates-based retailer that has seemingly been on a steady downward spiral since being acquired several years ago by hedge fund manager Eddie Lampert. The top-ranked retailer on the Interbrand list is Walmart, which seems to have triumphed over a lot of negative press in recent years about employee relations and other matters.

Best Buy was rated second, followed by Home Depot, Target and CVS. Deerfield-based Walgreens came in slightly behind CVS in seventh place. Several online only retailers did well in the Interbrand rankings too, including Dell computer company in sixth place, eBay in eleventh place and Amazon.com at No. 14. While Sears failed to make the list, several department store brands did: Nordstrom was twelfth, Kohl's was twenty-second and J.C. Penney ranked twenty-fourth.

"Successful brands bend and curve with the changing economy and continue to engage and deliver a unique experience to the consumer," explained Lee Carpenter, CEO of Interbrand Design Forum.

Art from Tropicana's 'Squeeze -- It's a Natural' campaign.jpgThe Tropicana orange juice brand is one of several iconic PepsiCo brands that exited Element 79/Chicago over the course of the past year. PepsiCo said very little at the time about why it yanked Tropicana and other ad accounts from Element 79, but it's always interesting to see what kind of work comes out of a new shop . The Arnell Group/New York got the Tropicana business from Element 79, and this month the first bits of a new campaign from Arnell start to go public in major markets, including Chicago, New York, Los Angeles and Boston.

The Arnell operation emphasizes design in its advertising work. So it's not altogether surprising to learn the agency has completely rethought the Tropicana carton in such a way that no one looking at said container could miss one point Arnell is trying to make in this new campaign, namely that Tropicana is a pure orange juice product. That point we got. But what was far vaguer and more troubling about this new effort is the campaign tagline "Squeeze. It's a Natural," which struck us as something of a major non-sequitur.

We kind of figured out what the "squeeze" refers to, but that "it's" threw us, because it is sitting there with nothing to clearly refer back to in the tagline except, of course, squeeze. And if that is indeed the intended reference, it's a muddled one at best. Neil Campbell, the Chicago-based president of Tropicana, suggested to us the tag in its entirety is trying to conjure some emotional connection between consumers and the brand, while underscoring Tropicana is an all natural product. Maybe. But to us the line is unnecessarily confusing, and that's never a good thing in advertising.
Lew's view: C+

Andy Shaw's last hurrah at WLS-TV

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Shaw_Andy_smilecolor[2].jpgAfter 25 distinguished years as a reporter at ABC-owned WLS-Channel 7, Andy Shaw heads to Washington this weekend to cover Barack Obama's inauguration as the nation's 44th President of the United States. It will be Shaw's swan song as WLS' chief political reporter. Shaw's last day reporting from Chicago will be Thursday, after which the WLS staff is throwing a party for him at the station. Then it's off to Washington, where Shaw delivers his final report for WLS on Jan. 21.

What's next for the TV news veteran? Shaw told us he will soon head south for six weeks of sun and fun in Florida and South America, before heading home to Chicago to explore his options post-WLS. Stay tuned.

Thumbnail image for tabandbroad.jpgThe Chicago Tribune is going tab. Sort of. In a move that sort of mirrors action taken by some broadsheet newspapers in London several years ago, the Trib announced today it will start distributing a semi-tabloid version of its weekday broadsheet starting next Monday at newsstands, retail outlets newspaper boxes and train and bus stations throughout the Chicago metro market. The new tab's cover price will be 75 cents, the same as the full-blown broadsheet edition of the paper that will continue to be delivered to the Trib's subscribers.

But oddly, the Trib's new venture won't be a pure tabloid product. As it turns out, only the news, business and sports sections will be in the tab format, while broadsheet versions of the featurey "Live!" "Play" and "Good Eating" sections will be inserted into the tab, leaving readers to deal with a newspaper that is, at best, a half breed.

The Trib's abrupt move announced today appears yet another way Trib management is responding to the huge outcry from unhappy readers that came in the wake of the newspaper's busy, loud redesign of its broadsheet unveiled last September. Per Trib Publisher Tony Hunter, commuters said they wanted a "more convenient" version of the paper that still contained all -- or most -- of the content in the broadsheet. "Companies succeed when they leverage strong brands and respond to customer feedback," said Hunter in a statement.

This latest move by the Trib also appears, at least in part, to be aimed at boosting its single copy sales in the city, where the Sun-Times has always had a much stronger presence. Mark Fitzgerald, the Chicago-based editor-at-large for the trade publication Editor & Publisher, thinks the Trib should have made such a move a long time ago. "People love the tabloid shape," said Fitzgerald, who also admitted he wasn't absolutely sure whether they'd love it enough to plunk down 75 cents for the Trib broadsheet editorial product reformatted as a tabloid.

X00096_9.JPG.jpgWarner Saunders, the co-anchor of NBC-owned WMAQ-Channel 5 flagship 10 p.m. newscast, has been selected as one of the Chicago Defender newspaper's "Men of Excellence." The honorific acknowledges and celebrates African-American men who personify the qualities of respect, responsibility, passion, brotherhood and leadership.

Saunders anchors WMAQ's 10 p.m. newscast with Allison Rosati, and they are the longest-running 10 p.m. news team in Chicago. Saunders is expected to step down from his anchoring duties at WMAQ later this year. In his 30-year career, Saunders has won more than 20 Emmy Awards for his work in news, sports, documentaries, talk shows and community town meetings. A reception is slated for the Hotel Allegro in Chicago, on Jan. 15, to honor the Defender's 2nd annual group of Men of Excellence.

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Meet Mancow Muller, the foodie. Travel Channel fans will have a chance to do just that when Muller, now a mid-morning host on WLS-AM (890), shows up on Feb. 2, on the food and travel show "Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations."

Bourdain wanted to do a show about Chicago, so he called up his old buddy Muller and asked the outspoken radio personality where he wanted to take him to eat. Muller's first choice was the Silver Cloud, a Bucktown eatery known for its comfort food. Muller told us the restaurant was housed in an old railroad car, but the Silver Cloud Web site gave no indication of that.

Anyway, Muller apparently likes the place because it reminds him of rail trips he took as a kid with his father. Yea, Muller's become a real nostalgic softie. We also discovered we shouldn't ever ask the new WLS-AM mid-morning show host for directions to any place. Though he loves the Silver Cloud, it turns out Muller had no clear idea where the joint is located. "I don't drive," explained Muller. "I just hop in a taxi and tell the driver where I want to go." Right.

And one other thing. If you're wondering how Muller and Bourdain became such good friends, Muller said they did drugs together back in the day. He could have been kidding. But with Muller, who knows?

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This month longtime Chicago broadcasting talent Bob Sirott ups his news anchor profile at NBC-owned WMAQ-Channel 5 by starting to co-front the weekday 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. newscasts. He's believed to be the co-anchor heir apparent to Warner Saunders on Channel 5's 10 p.m. news. As Sirott moves ever closer to grabbing the holy grail in local news, we sound him out on his career and his role at WMAQ.

Q. You're raising your news anchor profile at WMAQ. What, in your opinion, separates a good news anchor from a bad one?

A. The anchors I've admired have been good writers. They don't just announce the news; they also understand it and deliver it in a way that's clear, concise and credible. However, if you're on TV every day, you can't hide your true personality. You have to be yourself and hope people like you.

payne.jpg Longtime news anchor Allison Payne plans to return to Tribune Co.-owned WGN-Channel 9 on Monday, after having been off the air for several months.

Per WGN management, Payne had spent her time away from the station rehabilitating from a series of mini-strokes. But her rehabilitation apparently is not complete yet. Payne reportedly will focus only on anchoring WGN's early newscast at 5:30 p.m., so she can continue with her rehabilitation.

Payne was for many years a fixture on the station's flagship 9 p.m. weekday newscast.

It wasn't immediately clear if, or when, she might return to WGN's 9 p.m. news report, which now includes Mark Suppelsa as a co-anchor.

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Lewis Lazare has written the Media Mix column for the Chicago Sun-Times for the past seven and a half years.

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