Hardly 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.