We thought it would be a long, long time indeed before another top advertising executive disgraced the profession on a scale commensurate with the pathetic antics of Julie Roehm, who was kicked out of WalMart in 2006, for the brazenly shameless way she is said to have handled herself and her marketing responsibilities at her former employer. But barely three years after that extraordinary debacle, JWT North American CEO Rosemarie Ryan has managed to one-up Roehm.
Just over a week ago, Ryan came to Chicago to tell the 50 or so remaining employees at the vastly diminished JWT/Chicago that the local shop will shut down forever in 60 days. Even though she was here to close a Chicago agency with an unusually rich history spanning more than 100 years, Ryan did the dirty deed quickly and then refused to address questions from the media, except for a few cursory remarks to Advertising Age -- among them her startling admission she didn't know why JWT/Chicago had failed.
Ryan's observation surely will live in infamy as infuriating evidence of what sad shape the American advertising industry is in circa 2009. If executives such as Ryan who are paid handsomely to manage and grow ad agencies don't know what's happening or why, how can there be any hope for this once fun and hugely creative industry to find its way out of the dark, depressing hole into which it is sinking?
Certainly Ryan is not alone among the current crop of executives contributing to the ad business' woes. Several other Chicago agencies have faltered badly in recent years -- DDB and Leo Burnett to name but two -- as management has proved unable to restore the luster and vibrancy to these battered shops.
In the days since Ryan delivered her bombshell to JWT/Chicago, there has been an outpouring of nostalgic reminiscences from former and current employees at a newly-formed Web site www.ripjwt.com. It's remarkable to see how many people recall the fun times at an agency that was -- once upon a time -- a real creative beehive.
Nostalgia is nice, but it might behoove all these Web posters fondly remembering the JWT/Chicago that was to focus less on the long-ago happy past and more on the real and disturbing problems of today that have led to the shop's demise. And more importantly, to speak up and help push for change in a business that desperately needs to.