Leo Burnett/Chicago has laid off significant numbers of staffers in recent days -- more than two dozen by some accounts. Those now gone from the iconic Chicago agency are believed to include long-time creative Tim Pontarelli, who for a number of years had been the lead creative on Burnett's all-important and longstanding Hallmark account. Pontarelli did not return a call seeking comment.
Though Pontarelli didn't have as much hands-on involvement with the Hallmark account in recent times, he was still perceived as the creative ringleader on the business. Some observers suspect Pontarelli's departure may be linked to efforts by Burnett chief creative officer Susan Credle to put the account more firmly under her control.
Still Pontarelli was directly involved in the creation of what, from this vantage point, remains the single best -- and most moving -- piece of work to come out of Burnett in the past decade -- a Hallmark spot called "Hooper." The brilliantly-conceived commercial, directed by veteran Joe Pytka, tells the story of a young woman who comes to see her retiring college professor and tell him -- with the help of a Hallmark card -- how much the prof helped shape her life.
The rest of the layoffs at Burnett are believed to be connected at least in part to a rumored departure of the giant Samsung global account. A portion of the work on that huge piece of business was handled out of Burnett's flagship Chicago office.
A Burnett spokeswoman confirmed there were "job eliminations" caused by "the difficult decision to restructure a bit." The spokeswoman also said it would be "incorrect" to say the Samsung account is leaving Burnett.