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OTSC-0807.jpegThe Chicago advertising and public relations industry's annual Off the Street Club holiday luncheon almost didn't happen this year.

Jack Rooney of Ogilvy & Mather/Chicago delivered that shocking and grim bit of news at the top of what turned out to be a very festive affair Thursday at the Fairmont Hotel Chicago. Rooney said he was told early in the summer that no ad agency or public relations firm had stepped forward to sponsor the 2010 luncheon. Usually by that point, planning would be well under way for an event typically held early in December each year.

Tradition has it that one ad agency or public relations firm is the luncheon's lead sponsor. But times being what they are (hard, in case you hadn't guessed) in the Chicago ad world, no agency apparently raised its hand to follow in the steps of Euro RSCG/Chicago, lead sponsor of last year's slickly-executed luncheon.

Rooney made it clear Ogilvy wasn't prepared to shoulder the responsibility of doing this year's luncheon all alone. But before panic set in, a decision was made to pull together a consortium of agencies that are part of the Chicago chapter of the American Association of Advertising Agencies and let the bunch of them share the responsibility of doing the planning and execution of this year's event.

The luncheon's near collapse notwithstanding, we are pleased to report it went off without a hitch, with upwards of 700 in attendance. As always, the highlight was the naming of the Off the Street Club Boy and Girl of the Year. This year they are Jovan Bradley and Latarsia Jackson.

We never cease to be amazed at what poise and polish these hugely promising youngsters demonstrate when they stand all alone before a large crowd of strangers to give a speech and share a little bit of what makes them special. Jackson wants to grow up to be a poetess, and she read a lovely poem about peace and giving thanks. Bradley proudly channels Justin Bieber, and he gave a performance that demonstrated Bieber has nothing on him.

Altogether, the luncheon is expected to raise in excess of $400,000 to help the Off the Street Club continue its decades of work with children from the city's west side, where drugs and gang violence are constant concerns.

For the record, the ad agencies that helped make the 2010 luncheon happen are (in alphabetical order): Cramer-Krasselt; Digitas; Energy BBDO; Euro RSCG; Leo Burnett and Ogilvy & Mather. Edelman/Ruth did the video presentation. "Hope" was the theme for the luncheon.

Davion Fountain 3.jpgA star was definitely born at last Thursday's 109th annual Off-the-Street Club luncheon, an annual effort by Chicago's advertising and public relations community to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars to benefit the eminently worthy Off the Street Club, the West Garfield Park entity that gives scores of children in one of the city's most crime-infested neighborhoods a safe haven to play and learn. The star, in this instance, is 10-year-old Davion Fountain, who at the luncheon was named the Off the Street Club's Boy of the Year. Davion then marched up to the podium to be recognized, and with more poise, polish and charm than we've see from many people three or four or more times his age, he addressed the crowd of nearly 700 to thank them for the honor and express what it meant to him.

Davion concluded his remarks by noting he hoped to grow up one day to become a member of the Off the Street Club's board of directors. Yes, this boy has his goals quite in order.Then, Davion called on to the stage two of his Off the Street Club friends to do a dance (replete with moonwalking) to Michael Jackson's "Thriller." Without risk of overstatement, we can safely say Davion brought down the house.

Meanwhile, the luncheon host, agency Euro RSCG/Chicago, is to be commended for the smooth fashion in which the event unfolded. During perhaps the most difficult year in memory for the local ad industry, Euro RSCG got nearly 100 more people to show up for this year's luncheon than for last year's. The luncheon is expected to have helped raise in excess of $400,00

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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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