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Lewis Lazare follows Chicago media and marketing news

Recently in Leo Burnett/Chicago Category

Douglas Fir.jpgWell we went, and we experienced the 2011 Chicago Addy Awards reception at Resolution Digital Studios on the city's west side. But before we offer a few observations about the experience itself, we must report the big news: Leo Burnett walked off with the Best of Show Award for its "Mayhem" television campaign for Allstate Insurance.

The top award winner came as no surprise, really. The pre-reception buzz suggested the campaign was headed for the winner's circle. We personally have not been among its biggest fans, as scare-tactic advertising just doesn't work so well for us. But it is certainly a well-produced and well-acted effort, and we can see how others might have fancied it a winner.

What of the awards reception itself? Well, it made manifest what was most obvious about the outcome of this Chicago Addy competition -- the first of its sort in nearly a decade. Though there were said to be 400 entries overall in a multitude of categories, what seemed apparent Thursday night was that Leo Burnett and its Arc arm picked up an alarmingly large number of the awards.

There was some (quiet) grousing among those in attendance about Burnett's dominance, but for better or for worse, that's the way the judges saw it. Of course the outcome may have had something to do with the number of agencies that chose to participate. As always, the cost of entering was a consideration that ultimately kept some shops from participating as fully as they might have wished.

As for the reception itself, we liked it. Yes, the number of people in attendance seemed on the low side, but that, quite frankly, made it a much more pleasant experience for those who were there. The spacious warehouse environment was surprisingly warm and inviting, and the decibel level was sufficiently low to allow for actual conversation -- a huge plus from our vantage point.

From talking to the executives in charge of the evening we gathered that this Addys format will be the template for a local awards show for the foreseeable future, unless some group comes up with a better idea that is fundable and can be executed without undue complication.

We'll say this much for the folks that put on this 2011 Chicago Addy Awards event. They actually did an awards event, and they kept the focus exactly where it should be -- on the work and a simple, unfussy reception to honor the winners and celebrate the Chicago advertising community.

It's certainly not the Christmas present DraftFCB/Chicago would have wanted. But S.C. Johnson, one of the agency's longest-standing and biggest clients, said Wednesday it is putting its entire portfolio of brands into review.

A S.C. Johnson spokeswoman said Thursday that DraftFCB will defend the business. If the agency emerges victorious from the review -- a big if in the eyes of some observers -- a major bloodbath at the agency could be averted.

One source familiar with agency staffing estimated that a loss of all the S.C. Johnson business could result in as many as 200 to 300 layoffs at DraftFCB. This would be catastrophic for DraftFCB and for the Chicago advertising industry, which has been reeling for several years now from agency downsizing and wave after wave of client defections.

Speculation immediately turned to which local shops might be able to win the business and keep it here. But the list of viable prospects doesn't look to be very long. Leo Burnett might be reluctant to participate because of its close ties to Procter & Gamble, but sources said there don't appear to be any major direct conflicts on the agency's client roster.

Some mentioned Energy BBDO, but it might be too small unless it managed to partner with other Omnicom agencies to create a global network. Element 79 has been mentioned as well. Agency leader Brian Williams headed up Foote Cone & Belding prior to its merger with Draft. He is very familiar with S.C. Johnson. But Element 79 also would have to partner with other Omnicom shops to create any global heft -- an arrangement that might be awkward at best.

But there's another intriguing scenario that has been mentioned. DDB/Chicago could appoint Mark Modesto as its new president and CEO, thereby paving the way for him to help the agency land the S.C. Johnson business.

Modesto had been in charge of the S.C. Johnson North American business at DraftFCB until he was abruptly ousted in August. But it's unclear how favorably he is now viewed within S.C. Johnson because of the fallout from his departure from DraftFCB. The addition of the huge S.C. Johnson account would be a major boost to the beleaguered DDB.

The ineffectual Rick Carpenter resigned as DDB/Chicago president and CEO in early December.

Leo Burnett/Chicago chief creative officer Susan Credle is getting her close-up in the January, 2011, issue of Chicago magazine, set to hit newsstands in a matter of days. The Credle profile was written by Marcia Froelke Coburn, one of the city's finest long-form reporters. We got an advance look at the story today, and we can report that it is a balanced assessment of Credle and her first year on the job at Leo Burnett, where she arrived in October, 2009, as chief creative officer, after having spent her entire career at BBDO/New York.

Froelke Coburn writes at length about some of the Burnett work Credle has said she is most proud of, namely the "Mayhem" campaign for Allstate and the charming Happy Meals animated spots for McDonald's. There is the requisite recounting of how Credle handled -- and came to love -- the M&M's business, a primary focus during much of her time at BBDO. Credle also talks with Froelke Coburn about wanting to foster an environment at Burnett where clients are encouraged to "go for long-term investment over short-term splash."

On the personal front, Credle discussed how she had tried -- but was unable -- to have children with husband and architect Joe Credle: "If I had had children, I don't think I could have done this job -- not as well as I have," said the Burnett creative boss.

Credle has only been at Burnett for a year. It's much too early to say what kind of lasting impact she will have at the iconic Chicago agency, and Froelke Coburn wisely stops short of suggesting Credle will be the one who burnishes Burnett's slightly tattered image and restores at least some of the agency's former greatness.

We finally heard from Tim Pontarelli, and we can now re-confirm that, yes, after more than 20 years in the employ of Leo Burnett/Chicago (with much of that time spent on the agency's Hallmark business), Pontarelli has indeed parted ways with the shop. But he apparently did not leave the agency as one of the victims of the recent bloodbath/restructuring that claimed more than two dozen employees.

Rather Pontarelli coincidentally exited at the same time because he did not wish to accept a new, non-Hallmark-focused job that chief creative officer Susan Credle had offered him. "It was time to go," said Pontarelli, who is looking forward to some time off to consider his options, which might include working for another agency or getting into the production end of the business, including directing. In fact, he is headed out to the west coast now to hang for a while with his mentor Joe Pytka, one of the most legendary of all TV commercial directors and the man who helmed Pontarelli's masterpiece, the Hallmark spot titled "Hooper."

Meanwhile, we're told that the Hallmark account has now been put under the control of Burnett creative Jeanie Caggiano. She also heads up the Allstate account, where "Mayhem" has been much in evidence in recent months -- referring to the high profile campaign that personified mayhem and aimed to amuse some viewers and strike fear in the souls of others.

But Caggiano and others probably were not pleased to hear the news coming from Allstate the past couple of days: Allstate policyholders in large numbers are not renewing their policies. That could signal a need for a change in marketing tactics. Will "Mayhem" prevail? We'll see.

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.

Don't expect cannons to be shot off or a bunch of iconic critters (hello Tony the Tiger!) to march down Michigan Avenue, but today is the day Leo Burnett celebrates its 75th anniversary.

Apparently the decision was made not to make a super big deal of this anniversary milestone, in part because agency honchos preferred not to draw too much attention to the fact the agency isn't exactly in the best shape it's ever been. New business wins are down markedly, and though there have been a few wonderful pieces of work from the shop in recent months, no one would say the agency is in top creative form across the boards. But there is always hope. And some great work over the past 75 years to build on.

In any event, to mark this 75th birthday, Burnett will get a visit from the Jessie White Tumblers. Staffers will participate in a Chicago creative quiz game show and get guitar, bass and DJ lessons. And even learn how to decorate a cake. Wow! Each employee also will get $75, and they will be encouraged to "engage with" (i.e. give a monetary gift to) several local and client-related charities that will be at the agency today.

Finally, the day will end with a celebration for all staff at the Field Museum, where Burnett Worldwide CEO Tom Bernardin sits on the board. Still to come on Oct. 2 is the debut of "HumanKind," a book that sets forth Burnett's evolved philosophy of advertising. Think acts, not advertising, and you'll have a sense of what it's all about.

So now it's on to the next 75.

Ad agencies are supposed to be all about generating buzz. But there hasn't been much of it -- as yet --about one big birthday being celebrated this year in the Chicago ad community.

We're talking about the 75th anniversary of the founding of Leo Burnett. It's a significant milestone for an agency that for many years represented the essence of what might be called the Chicago school of advertising. That particular style isn't as front of mind now as it was 20 or 30 years ago. But the heartwarming advertising that had wonderful storytelling at its core was for a long while synonymous with brands such as Hallmark cards and McDonald's that have been at Burnett for decades.

A good chunk of Burnett's 75th anniversary year already has passed, but one thing the agency is doing to mark its birthday is the publication of a new book called "HumanKind," a 250-page-plus summation in words and images of everything the agency has learned about brand building in its three-quarters of a century in business. The two authors listed on the cover are Burnett Worldwide CEO Tom Bernardin and Burnett Worldwide chief creative officer Mark Tutssel. But sources say Dan Santow, a PR executive with Edelman/Chicago, was the ghostwriter of much -- if not all -- of the text.

We'll save a fuller review of the book for closer to the official Oct. 2 publication date, but suffice it to say the book looks to be an elaborate attempt to repackage the basic tenets of advertising in terms more in sync with the way the business is perceived in this digital world. Bernardin and Tutssel still contend that advertising at heart is about communication, it's just that the way the communication manifests itself has changed.

Many will see "HumanKind" and contend it is a coffee table tome in the same vein as Saatchi & Saatchi honcho Kevin Roberts' recent "Lovemarks" book about evolved branding. The two books certainly have a similar, very visual design, and both have the same publisher, Brooklyn-based PowerHouse.

No doubt Burnett executives would have preferred that this 75th anniversary fall on a year when the flagship Chicago office could boast of huge account wins and a major sense of momentum. The year 2010 isn't over yet, but so far it has been another quiet one for the agency in terms of new business.

While there have been some encouraging signs at Burnett of a return to advertising that celebrates strong storytelling, especially for McDonald's, the agency's creative output still can be frustratingly uneven.

If anyone ever doubted the upcoming Cannes International Advertising Festival was rapidly becoming little more than an excuse for ad professionals to party and ignore their regular responsibilities while frolicking on the Riviera for a week or more, Leo Burnett is giving us one more reason to assume the worst about the annual ad fest.

In what can only be described as a stroke of unbridled tastelessness, the agency is sending one David Perez, its creative recruiter no less, to the Cannes confab to execute what is being called "David on Demand."

As he informs us in a brief intro to the project at, Perez will be at Cannes wearing a special pair of eyeglasses equipped with a Web cam, so we who aren't there can watch him do whatever people command him to do via tweets. Perez said in the video that if someone asks him to jump in a fountain at Cannes, he will do it. "I'm your b**ch, I'm your slave," says Perez in the video, sounding as if he truly relishes the prospect of what awaits him.

Burnett has plenty of problems to deal with at the moment, not least of which is a dearth of new business. Does it really need its name attached to this type of trashy exercise in attracting attention? Absolutely not. Nonetheless, David on Demand is set to go live June 21.

As we wait and wonder whether Zig/Chicago will survive the staff exodus and a dearth of new business, another possible option for the shop going forward has come to our attention.

That would involve bringing together the various other Chicago entities that are part of the Toronto-based MDC Partners ad agency holding company (which Zig is part of) in the large office space on North Michigan Avenue now occupied by the small Zig operation. This would put all the Chicago-based MDC shops and their services under one roof and presumably make it easier for future clients to pick and choose what they need from the lot of them. Also it would help mask the fact Zig is, at present, a very small operation indeed. Whether this option ultimately proves more attractive than other possibilities remains to be seen.

In the meantime, it appears ex-Zig/Chicago chief creative officer Stephen Leps is still dealing with immigration issues that must be sorted out before he can commence his new job at Leo Burnett/Chicago. Sources say he will have a very top level post in the agency's creative department with a direct report to chief creative officer Susan Credle.

Stephen Leps, the outgoing creative director at Zig/Chicago, wasn't talking about his future plans last week when he announced he is exiting the shop. All he would say was that he expected to take another job in Chicago in several weeks. Well, if he does wind up taking another job in Chicago -- and nothing is signed on the dotted line yet -- it looks as if it will be at Leo Burnett/Chicago, where chief creative officer Susan Credle is busy revamping the creative department. Leps and Credle are not strangers. The two have known each other for a while, and there was a time when Leps might have wound up at BBDO/New York, Credle's former place of employment. But that moment passed, and Leps opted to stay with Zig/Toronto.



About the blogger

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 Leo Burnett/Chicago category.

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