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Lewis Lazare follows Chicago media and marketing news

Recently in DDB/Chicago Category

headshot.jpgAs part of the ongoing effort to turn around DDB/Chicago, the agency is bringing in Jonathan Sackett as chief digital officer and managing director, a new position at the shop. Sackett previously was chief digital officer at the Martin Agency in Richmond, Va.

In his new role at DDB, Sackett will lead the charge to develop the shop's digital capabilities, an area in which the agency is viewed as a laggard by some observers. "I've always known DDB to possess lightning in a bottle," said Sackett. "And we're going to build on the great digital work I've seen from DDB to release that lightning," added Sackett. "This new senior leadership position is more than a traditional CDO -- it's designed to ensure that we bring the latest innovations and technologies to all our client solutions," explained Mark O'Brien, president of DDB North America.

DDB management obviously hopes Sackett will be a huge help in revamping and enhancing the shop's image, which has taken a big hit in recent years. "In the last few months, we've taken major steps towards transforming this agency into the creative shop Ewan (Paterson) and I want it to be," added O'Brien.

In the past, however, DDB has not always had great luck holding on to hotshot talent from hotshot shops in other markets. In 2005, David Rolfe joined DDB from Crispin Porter + Bogusky as director of branded production. Rolfe's tenure was relatively brief before he abruptly decided to return to Crispin.

Can it be? A ray of light after years of darkness. Yes, we hear that DDB/Chicago has been awarded the Sierra Mist account after it was put in review earlier this year. Goodby Silverstein & Partners/San Francisco had handled the account since 2009.

Sierra Mist parent PepsiCo has shifted agencies on a number of brands in recent years for reasons that were not always readily apparent. Sierra Mist is believed to be DDB's first major account win in several years. An agency spokeswoman could not immediately be reached for comment.

The win comes some nine months after Ewan Paterson came on board as the agency's chief creative officer, and three months after Rick Carpenter exited as CEO. It's only one win, but at least it re-establishes DDB as an agency that can bring in new business, something we weren't entirely sure it could still do.

Gross, Paterson, Cimino.jpgThere looks to be a bit of the back-to-the-future approach coming into play at DDB/Chicago, where chief creative officer Ewan Paterson has begun restructuring the agency's creative department. On Tuesday, as a blizzard headed for Chicago, Paterson said he is promoting both Bill Cimino and Mark Gross to the role of executive creative director, a new title at the agency. Gross and Cimino will report directly to Paterson.

It's no coincidence, we suspect, that Cimino and Gross are attached to two of the agency's biggest pieces of business -- Anheuser-Busch and McDonald's. Though the agency has had little luck attracting new accounts of that magnitude in recent years, it is essential to retain the ones that it does have if the agency has any hope of rebuilding its client roster.

Cimino joined DDB/Chicago in 1993, and was promoted to group creative director in 2006. He has worked closely on both the McDonald's and Bud Light business. Gross joined the agency in 1993 as an art director and worked his way up to group creative director, overseeing Bud Light, Bud Light Lime and Cars.com

It appears Paterson is attempting to revive the impressive creative spirit that dominated the agency throughout much of the 1980's and 1990's, but seemed to evaporate almost entirely over the past decade.

"Mark and Bill stand for everything that is great about DDB/Chicago, namely a belief in -- and ability to produce -- fantastic and talked about work," said Paterson. "Their promotion will allow them to have greater influence over the agency's work and future," added Paterson.

DDB/Chicago president and CEO Rick Carpenter is gone. Carpenter's departure comes just days after Mark O'Brien was tapped to replace Dick Rogers as head of DDB's North American operations. O'Brien will now run DDB's Chicago office on an interim basis until a new CEO is found.

As we said just days ago, Rogers should have vacated his job overseeing DDB's North American operations years ago. Likewise Carpenter's exit should have happened long ago -- when it became apparent he was incapable of leading DDB/Chicago out of the dark hole it fell into after the suicide of DDB creative leader Paul Tilley in early 2008.

Now, with the agency looking as if it could be in a possibly irreversible free fall, O'Brien and DDB/Chicago chief creative officer Ewan Paterson, who has been in his post for less than six month, are left to try and right so much that has gone wrong at DDB's flagship North American shop over the past several years.

Within minutes of the announcement of Carpenter's departure to pursue other opportunities, some sources were wondering why DDB didn't have someone ready to step in to Carpenter's job right away. It took DDB more than two years to name Paterson to replace the late Paul Tilley.

And during those two years with only Carpenter at the helm, DDB/Chicago drifted further into disarray. Now there are concerns the agency could sink into even worse shape unless a new leader -- the right leader -- is quickly found to work alongside Paterson. If that new leader turns out to be someone outside of DDB, then what will that say about all the staff now sitting at DDB/Chicago. Do none of them have the right stuff to lead the shop?

Certainly, the series of bad management personnel choices that have seriously wounded DDB are a sign of a larger problem that extends well beyond a single agency. As we've said often, leaders with true leadership ability and vision are in dangerously short supply in the advertising industry today. DDB is certainly the most painful example of what this crisis is causing to happen to agencies that were once shining beacons of creative greatness -- beacons that made the entire industry an exciting and fascinating business to watch and write about.

Our lasting image of Carpenter will be of his posing for a photo to run with a profile we wrote of him shortly after he arrived at DDB/Chicago in the fall of 2007. We will never forget how he didn't just stand and let the Sun-Times photographer shoot him. But rather he changed his pose almost as quickly as each of many shots was snapped -- something professional models learn how to do very quickly. At the time, we couldn't help but wonder whether he might have fallen into the wrong line of work. We're still wondering.

DDB waited way too long to remove Dick Rogers as president of its North American operations. Years after it should have made a move, DDB now is installing Mark O'Brien as president of North America (who knows for how long) and kicking Rogers upstairs to become chairman.

Based in Chicago, Rogers presided over the some of the darkest days in the history of DDB/Chicago, where tragedy, rampant mismanagement and a full-throttle creative breakdown have left the shop gasping for life. When he should have taken action immediately and helped a battered agency regain its composure, Rogers seemed at loss about what to do with DDB/Chicago following the very public suicide of chief creative officer Paul Tilley nearly three years ago.

That horrific event seemingly paralyzed the agency, and there was little if any public relations effort to help resuscitate the agency's image in the wake of Tilley's suicide. Since then, the agency has, for all intents and purposes, ceased to be one of the most important and respected cornerstones of the Chicago ad industry. Now DDB is just another shop trying to hang on. It's all been almost unbearably painful to watch.

McGarryBowen/Chicago -- one of just a couple of Chicago ad agencies that can truly be said to be growing in a market where accounts skitter out of town with shocking and depressing regularity -- has hit the jackpot again.

Sources report McGarry, which works on a huge chunk of Kraft business and recently added Advil to the roster, is now prepping some Bud Light spots that could very well wind up debuting on the upcoming Super Bowl. We're told that the work McGarry hopes to sell to Bud Light parent Anheuser-Busch tries to bring a fresh feel and conceptual hook to the way-too-tired and predictable punch line schtick that has prevailed in the Bud Light work since DDB/Chicago first went in that direction many years ago.

And speaking of DDB/Chicago, the McGarry coup once again suggests that DDB is losing even more of its already tenuous grasp on one of its flagship accounts. Whatever has been happening -- for better or for worse in the closed-off bunker that is now DDB -- certainly has not managed to bring fresh spark to an agency that, sadly, seems to be terribly scared of even its own shadow at this late stage in its life.

Meanwhile, we won't know for sure whether the McGarry work will make the Super Bowl until it has gone through the rigorous focus group testing that all A-B advertising is subjected to before being cleared for airing on the big game. But sources say the Anheuser-Busch folks were mighty impressed with the sample work the McGarry crew presented recently.

Separately, on the Advil front, McGarry is also pushing to bring a new feel to a product in the pharmaceutical category via more of a story-driven approach. Let's hope the Advil execs buy into it. The world can always use a few more good -- or even great -- story-driven commercials.

Cars.com is headed back to the Super Bowl, slated for Feb. 6, 2010. This will mark the website's fourth consecutive appearance on the big game. "Advertising in the Super Bowl is a proven investment, which is why we're returning," said Mitch Golub, president of Cars.com. The website will add to its "Confidence" campaign with two 30-second spots, one in the third quarter and one in the fourth. DDB/Chicago will supply the commercials. "Our ad during last year's Super Bowl reached more than 106 million viewers -- the largest television audience of all time," said Carolyn Crafts, Cars.com vice-president of marketing.

Two months into his tenure at DDB/Chicago, chief creative officer Ewan Paterson is starting to wield the axe in the creative department. Among those believed to have been on the wrong end of that blunt axe this week, sources say, are creative directors Sally Weingartner, John Siebert and Grant Priehs. All held senior positions within a DDB creative unit that had been leaderless for more than two years prior to Paterson's arrival in late June. Siebert had, for a while, been closely attached to the agency's State Farm Insurance business, much of which is now in the hands of DraftFCB/Chicago.

Little has been heard from Paterson since he walked into DDB/Chicago, but sources say one curious priority on his agenda, apparently, is a facelift of the digs DDB now occupies at the Aon Center. Paterson, we're told, wants a hipper vibe than DDB's somewhat nondescript offices currently exude. Snazzier offices, while nice to work in, certainly won't do much to ignite the creative spark that has been too much absent from DDB in recent years. That will have to come -- if it comes at all -- from the creatives Paterson recruits to replace the axed.

One can only imagine what must be going through Paterson's mind as he watches from afar the meltdown in DDB's New York office, where former BBDO/New York hotshot creative Eric Silver was expected to do big things as chief creative officer. He did nothing really in his brief tenure in the job. Now he has been kicked upstairs to a business development post that is obviously a waiting room for him until he can find something else to do elsewhere.

Rumor has it Silver is one of three finalists for the top creative job at Euro RSCG/New York. It may not be an ideal fit for him, but at least it could take him out of the purgatory where he now finds himself. A Euro RSCG spokesman said a decision could come in September.

YourGEDFrame5__110420.jpgOptimus/Chicago and DDB/Chicago have joined forces to create a series of videos and a TV spot encouraging people who didn't graduate from high school to take the necessary steps to get a GED diploma -- a document that certifies the holder has attained high school level skills and knowledge. The introductory video, posted at www.yourged.org, is fairly basic. It shows several young people who have made the decision to get their GED. We hear a little about what forced them to drop out of school and what happened to them subsequently.

A more interesting execution is the 60-second TV spot, also posted on the site. It does a masterful job of first capturing the dejection and isolation of people whose lives appear to have reached a dead end. Then, ever so slowly, we see them start to break down the walls -- literally and figuratively -- that have held them back because they lacked a high school diploma. That wonderfully liberating sense of freedom that comes from bursting through barriers is fully realized in this quiet, but powerful TV execution that also directs viewers to the previously-mentioned website.

This ad campaign was funded by the Dollar General Literary Foundation and the Ad Council.

Just how sensitive, we wonder, is Ewan Paterson to the culture he's about to become part of at DDB/Chicago, where he will take over as chief creative officer on June 21? In what we're sure was intended to be an innocuous-enough Adweek online piece Monday confirming -- yet again -- that Paterson will soon be running the creative department at the troubled Chicago shop, he was quoted as saying "the agency (DDB) has a client list to die for." A mere two paragraphs prior to his quote in the Adweek item was a line noting that Paterson "succeeds Paul Tilley, who committed suicide in February, 2008." 'Nuf said.

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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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