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Lewis Lazare follows Chicago media and marketing news

Memo to Ad Age: McCann is not alone

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Wow knock us over with a feather, why don't you. We were more than a bit taken aback to discover an article in Ad Age online today that actually addresses the state of the advertising industry and at least one of the ad agencies that -- last time we checked -- were the heart and soul of this business. Such coverage -- beyond the basic account wins and losses and exec comings and goings -- is a rarity nowadays in advertising trade publications. But that issue aside, we couldn't figure out why reporter Rupal Parekh opted to focus only on McCann-Erickson and its alleged domestic woes.

An unnamed agency consultant is quoted saying McCann's woes are perhaps worse than most others. Baloney. Such a remark leads us to believe this consultant -- and when has there ever been one worth a bent nickel? -- hasn't bothered to scratch very far beneath the surface of an industry clearly in crisis far and wide. Parekh's article goes on to enumerate all the obvious reasons why any agency would be suffering -- account losses, lack of leadership and an absence of vision.

If McCann is indeed believed to be suffering more than most domestic agencies on these fronts, might we suggest Parekh turn her attention to Chicago, and two of what were once this city's leading ad shops. We talk, of course, of DDB/Chicago and Leo Burnett. If ever two agencies were in danger of going down the drain because of the aforementioned problems, these two are.

Both Chicago shops have been stagnating creatively for years now. Which is a tragedy, because each used to have a distinctive creative style and output that kept the Chicago ad industry on the radar screen. But no longer. In the wake of Paul Tilley's suicide, DDB/Chicago appears to have decided simply to withdraw into itself -- a catastrophic public relations blunder that has left the shop with next to no public profile, except perhaps as the agency famous for producing increasingly mediocre Bud Light advertising.

As for Leo Burnett, the agency seems in no hurry to name a new creative honcho to replace John Condon, who did little to raise the shop's creative image in his several years on the job. And if Burnett leader Rich Stoddart has a vision he's implementing, it's certainly not drawing the attention of new clients. Because there hasn't been a major one since the agency got its GM win. And we don't want to talk about what has become of that, do we?

So Rupal Parekh, congrats for finally writing the kind of story Ad Age should be producing four or five times a week. You're right. There is trouble in Ad Land all right. But trust us, McCann is by no means the only major trouble spot.

1 Comment

Excellent article. The answer is easy.

The people in charge are not leaders. THEY are not in charge. For the boss, you have to go to Paris or London. There's no ad boss in Chicago. Funny that CK is the only one worth a damn in the whole city. Where's it based out of? As long as clients put big money into these tall towers of expensive guessers, they're gonna get the crap ads and ad advice they deserve.

This all started when Hal Riney sold out to Publicis. A good agency, one I was thrilled to work for, bit the dust that day. The culture change was immediate. Bean counting superceded creativity fromt he start and it hasn't relented. Don't blame the agencies, blame the clients. You can go to DDB or Leo B or Ogilvy and you're gonna get the same people doing the same job in the same way. When a small, independent shop wins a big global brand, you'll see things get better. Guaranteed.

You want innovation in Chicago, look to guys like Vinnie Warren and Kevin Lynch. Those are creatives that actually live up to what Leo B and DDB used to be. Why? Because they tell it like it is, don't take crap from office politicians and have a genuine love of the art, craft and business of advertising.

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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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