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They're trying to avoid calling it a wake, but the folks planning what is being billed as a "reunion" of former JWT/Chicago employees are hoping for a big turnout and a joyous celebration of a large agency that once was part of a vibrant, thriving Chicago advertising community. But, as we all know, that community is hardly thriving any longer, and JWT/Chicago, for all intents and purposes, is dead -- having shrunk to a mere gaggle of people servicing a single, smallish Illinois tourism account.

Ralph Rydholm, a former JWT/Chicago executive who was at the helm of the shop's creative department in the far more robust 1980's, is helping organize the reunion set for Aug. 28, at the Envent Studios, 344 N. Ogden in Chicago. Rydholm tells us more than 225 people have already paid for tickets to the event (oh how people love to recall the good ol' days), but he would like to see even more once-familiar faces at the party. For more info, visit the www.ripjwt.com Web site.

For many of the attendees who no doubt have moved on, the Aug. 28 celebration will just be an opportunity to party and socialize. For those of a more reflective bent, the occasion also will be an opportunity to consider just how much the advertising business has changed in the past couple of decades -- change that has brought about a situation that is grim and getting grimmer. Even Rydholm told us today he is shocked by the startling downturn in the business here in Chicago that he's watched happen in recent years.

But he still wants the Aug. 28 reunion to be a predominantly upbeat affair. And we have no doubt plenty of former JWT/Chicago party animals will materialize to make sure Rydholm's wishes are realized.

Just as the doors were about to close for good at JWT/Chicago, there appears to have been a reprieve. The shop is believed to have prevailed in a review for the $5 million Illinois Bureau of Tourism advertising account. JWT was the incumbent on the business, and in recent weeks, it had been competing with Euro RSCG/Chicago and Cramer-Krasselt/Chicago for the account. JWT's apparent win, sources say, means the Chicago shop would stay open at least as a satellite office to service the tourism account with approximately 20 staffers, including creative and account executives.

Perhaps the strongest aspect of JWT's work on the tourism account in recent years has been the eye-catching posters promoting a number of off-beat tourist destinations around the state. These executions helped pique interest in some attractions that vacationers otherwise might not have given a second thought.

Just in time for the annual vacation season, the Illinois Department of Tourism is in the final stages of a review of its ad account. The finalists are said to be incumbent JWT/Chicago, which will cease to have a fully-functioning office in Chicago in about two weeks (go figure), Euro RSCG/Chicago and Cramer-Krasselt/Chicago. Of the three shops in contention, Euro RSCG arguably has fewer internal issues to deal with at the moment. It at least has a chief creative officer in place. C-K recently parted ways with its Executive Creative Director Dean Hacohen. The agency said it will look for a new exec creative director with a pedigree it can leverage. While that search is in progress, Marshall Ross is running the show creatively at C-K.

No one watching this review play out can figure out how the state's tourism department could realistically hand the account back to JWT, given that the agency has pulled the plug on its storied Chicago outpost. JWT/Chicago shop did some great poster work for the account, but that was about it. Some speculate that JWT could keep some sort of service office open here to handle the tourism account, but for such a relatively small account, it hardly seems worth the bother.

The end is nigh. It's still almost incomprehensible to think it's over, but sources report that the remaining few sorry souls holding down the fort at JWT/Chicago will lock the doors of the agency's offices in the Merchandise Mart for the last time on June 1. Since the announcement from on high last month that the Chicago shop is shutting down for good, most of the weeping and handwringing about the storied agency's demise has been happening at a hastily-organized Web site, www.ripjwt. There also have been plenty of recollections, virtual hugs, humor and outpourings of compassion at that site among current and former staffers at JWT/Chicago. And that's about all that will be left of the shop come next month. We just wonder who's going to wind up with the very arty -- and no doubt expensive -- chairs gracing the agency's entrance foyer.

JWT/Chicago: a requiem

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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.

X00093_7.JPGDana Anderson has bounced back. After being pushed out as CEO of DDB/Chicago some 18 months ago, Anderson is back at packaged goods giant Kraft. Anderson has been named Kraft's senior vice-president of marketing, responsible for strategy and communication. It appears she will work closely with Kraft's roster of ad agencies and help them sharpen their various ad strategies. Anderson reports to Kraft Chief Marketing Officer Mary Beth West.

Since Irene Rosenfeld's ascension to the top CEO post at Kraft, there has been considerable flux within the company's marketing department -- a result, it seems, of Rosenfeld's constantly-evolving efforts to turn around a company that had been seen as a laggard in the food business for far too long.

For pretty much the entirety of Anderson's career, which spans stints at JWT/Chicago and the former Foote, Cone & Belding/Chicago before DDB, Anderson worked closely with Kraft and a number of its brands But it is Miracle Whip, perhaps more than any other Kraft brand, that Anderson knows best. She even managed to lure the account to DDB/Chicago during her troubled tenure there. But the work DDB produced was lacking in creative smarts, and Kraft quickly moved the business out of the agency.

Unlike DDB, where observers say Anderson never found her groove because she never fully understood that agency's culture, Kraft is a culture Anderson knows very well. She had been doing consulting work for Kraft since her ouster from DDB in 2007. It's unclear, at this juncture, what impact Anderson will have on Kraft's relationship with all the agencies on its roster. But she's certain to make life inside a Kraft a bit livelier. When she's "on," Anderson possesses a wicked wit, and she can truly dazzle when she is making a presentation to a room of people.

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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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This page is an archive of recent entries in the JWT/Chicago category.

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