It very well may go down in journalism annals as one of the most pathetic efforts at damage control ever. We're talking, of course, about Leo Burnett Worldwide CEO Tom Bernardin's chat with trade magazine Advertising Age on the occasion of his fifth anniversary at the agency. Rich Stoddart, Bernardin's minion in charge of the flagship Chicago office, participated too, ostensibly serving as chief cheerleader.
Much was made in the interview of Bernardin's having set up a global management team at Burnett, but management of any sort, sadly, seems to be the very weakest link in Bernardin's skill set, whatever that may be. We need only point out the period of time not that long ago when Bernardin brought in Juan Carlos Ortiz from Burnett's Latin American operations and set him up as co-leader at Burnett's Chicago office. As ill-advised as that co-leadership scheme was to begin with, Bernardin took it one step further and actually put Ortiz and Stoddart together at desks in the same office. It was a laughable scenario that couldn't -- and didn't -- last long. Needless to say, Bernardin failed to mention that development when he was talking with Ad Age about his dubious managerial achievements at Burnett.
Bernardin and Stoddart can try with all their might to spin their way out of a bad situation at Burnett. But the most recent round of at least 75 layoffs at Burnett and the costly settlement of --and ugly fallout from -- a lawsuit alleging the agency overbilled the United States Army are still fresh in our mind. Bernardin and Stoddart should be confronting the grim realities of where Burnett finds itself at the start of 2009. Instead they're trying to proclaim themselves heroes. It's a travesty.