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Lewis Lazare follows Chicago media and marketing news

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Redundant. That's the choice word Crispin Porter + Bogusky chairman Chuck Porter used to describe the soon-to-shutter Chicago office of Zig in a Q & A today with trade magazine Advertising Age.

Porter used the occasion to announce that Zig, which is headquartered in Toronto, would be folded into Crispin and that Zig's Chicago office would be shut down because, in Porter's parlance, it is now "redundant."

In a subsequent interview today with the Sun-Times, Porter quickly tried to mitigate the import of his remark to Ad Age. "I want to apologize if my comment was misinterpreted," said Porter, adding (perhaps a bit too belatedly) "I really like Chicago."

Still, that word "redundant" -- with all its hideous implications -- should be a clarion call to arms to all who still toil in the Chicago ad industry. It's hugely indicative of an attitude about the ad business in this town obviously held by Porter and no telling how many more in the ad world beyond the Windy City. The suggestion made by Porter in the Ad Age interview is that CP+B has enough offices in the United States and doesn't need to bother any longer with making anything of Zig's already near-dead Chicago outpost.

In his talk with us, Porter also admitted to being mystified about why Chicago isn't faring any better than it is as an advertising center. He said one reason may have to do with the ad business now being so fragmented and with ad people setting up shop wherever they want to, including Boulder, Colo., where CP+B has an office that is part of why Chicago is redundant.

In any event, we are left here in Chicago with the sad demise of yet another ad agency. But it had been clear for some time that Zig/Chicago was on life support and that no one was making much of an effort to save it. Especially after former chief creative officer Stephen Leps up and left several months ago for greener pastures at Leo Burnett/Chicago, where he will not have to shoulder the burden of keeping a small agency afloat.

Porter said Zig's handful of Chicago employees will be offered jobs at other CP+B outposts, but who knows how many will take him up on that offer. Or what fate might await them wherever they land. Steve Carli, the remaining principal partner at the ad shop, probably will quickly head back to Toronto, where he and former Zig partner Kevin Lynch previously worked. With Zig soon to become history, so too will the last vestiges of what was once known as Hadrian's Wall -- one of Chicago's great boutique ad shops. At least while it lasted.

Now all the Chicago ad world is left with from Zig and Hadrian's Wall is that odious descriptive: Redundant.

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.

Another key player in the dwindling cast at Zig/Chicago is leaving. Director of communications Katrina Limbaugh exits the shop next week to take a new communications job at an undisclosed Chicago agency.

Limbaugh expects to start her new job in July, after she returns from a trip to Kenya, where she and her husband will go on safari. Limbaugh said she wasn't necessarily looking for a new post. "This opportunity just sort of dropped in my lap," she explained.

Limbaugh's departure comes just a couple of months after that of chief creative officer Stephen Leps, who accepted a post at Leo Burnett/Chicago. Leps had been dispatched from Zig's head office in Toronto a year and a half ago with instructions to grow the shop and solidly establish it within the Chicago ad industry. But Leps had little success in that regard, which may have been part of his reason for looking to jump to Burnett.

Meanwhile, Limbaugh said seven people will remain on staff at Zig/Chicago after she is gone. She also said several options are being considered regarding Zig's future here. One, Limbaugh said, obviously involves finding a new chief creative officer. Limbaugh was more vague about what the other options might be, but they are believed to include merging with another local shop or, worst-case scenario, shutting down altogether. The agency has a very short client roster at the moment.

The search is on. A spokeswoman for Zig/Chicago told us today that the agency is indeed searching for a new creative leader to replace the departed Stephen Leps, who is believed to be en route to a new creative post at Leo Burnett/Chicago. The spokeswoman said she doesn't know how long Zig executives in Chicago and Toronto, where the agency's flagship office is located, will spend looking for someone. "They have to find the right person," she said. If recent history is any indication, of course, it typically takes quite a while for Chicago ad agencies to find someone willing and able to lead a creative department.

The question then becomes: How much time does Zig/Chicago have? The agency failed to land any big or high-profile accounts during the 15 months or so Leps was running the show creatively, and new business wins had been slow in coming even before Leps arrived promising to shake up things. We're told there was a going-away party for Leps a couple of weeks ago. There was plenty of alcohol on hand, but Leps reportedly made no big farewell speech. He just quietly ended his tenure at Zig.

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.

leps_headshot_color.jpgAfter a little more than a year in the job, Torontonian Stephen Leps is leaving his post as creative director at Zig/Chicago. Leps said he is going to another job in Chicago, but cannot reveal what that is yet. There were high hopes when Leps arrived that he would be able to establish some new momentum at the Zig boutique shop after Kevin Lynch's departure as the agency's top creative. But as the economy went into a tailspin, Leps failed to make much headway, though a spokeswoman for the agency did indicate the shop picked up new business from Unilever and the Tribune Media Group while Leps was in residence. But it was not the kind of big bump up in new business that Leps had suggested he could provide when he first landed in Chicago in early 2009.

Leps told us he is "really excited" about his new gig. Though Leps was a disappointment at Zig, his failure to work wonders there may suggest he is better suited for a job as a hands-on creative than he is for one where he is required to manage and grow an agency. Leps said he is leaving a shop with a staff of 10, including four creatives. He also said he doubted Zig would opt to fold the Chicago outpost at this time. A Zig/Chicago spokeswoman said Zig/Toronto's creative leader Aaron Starkman would oversee work here for the time being while a search for Leps' successor is underway.

Canada's Porter Airlines is quietly looking for a Chicago-based agency to handle what spokesman Brad Cicero characterized as market-specific advertising projects for the carrier. In this instance those projects, of course, would be Chicago-specific. United Kingdom-based Winkreative has handled all of Porter's systemwide branding and advertising needs since the airline launched three-and-a-half years ago. Porter marketing executives reportedly visited several Chicago ad agencies (fewer than five said Cicero) in recent days. Two by Four/Chicago and Zig/Chicago (which has its roots in Toronto) are believed to be among the shops Porter looked at.

Porter commenced service to Chicago's Midway Airport from its primary hub in Toronto in the fall of 2008, and the airline has been a hugely visible and aggressive advertiser of its non-stop service in Chicago's daily newspapers, among other places. Quietly, some Chicago ad executives have questioned whether Porter's current print advertising does a sufficiently good job of conveying the relatively high-end Porter in-flight experience, which includes complimentary beverage service in real glasses and boxed snacks on all flights. The carrier flies modern turboprop planes. "That raccoon maybe isn't the best way to tout what Porter offers," said one local ad executive, a reference to a raccoon character that appears in numerous Porter display ads.

Porter spokesman Cicero said it would probably take company executives another week or two to review all that they saw and heard in their visits to Chicago agencies, and at that point they will have a better sense of what kind of marketing projects they may want to undertake in Chicago and which local agency would be best suited for the task.

The buzz is building. Email and phone messages have come in today advising us that a fairly sizable crowd is expected to show up tonight at Lizzie McNeil's Pub, 400 N. McClurg Ct., by the Chicago River, for the first happy hour aimed at generating interest in the upcoming Creative Club Awards "No Show" at the Riviera Theatre on Sept. 10.

Tonight's fun begins at 5:30 p.m. The "No Show" organizers -- Matt Brennock, Lizz Ross and Katie Juras -- have told us repeatedly that they want this upcoming CCC show to be just as much about reviving some sense of community within Chicago's ravaged ad industry as it is about handing out awards to deserving creative. To that goal, we say "here, here."

Stephen Leps and Zig/Chicago are sponsoring tonight's get-together -- their way of saying they support the goals of the evening and the CCC show organizers. Leps, as many may know, is new to Chicago. He's still learning his way around, and perhaps because he's relatively new to the scene, he believes we can be a great and close and creative community once again. He may have much still to learn about what history has done to the Chicago ad business. But for now Leps remains a dreamer. And that's good thing. So party on everyone.

Rejoice, ad folk. That sorely-missing sense of community within the Chicago ad biz appears to be in the early stages of finally making itself manifest. We stress, of course, that word "appears," because as we all know in the Chicago ad world, appearances can sometimes be deceiving.

In a previous blog posting we tried to calm concerns that the organizers of the upcoming Chicago Creative Club Awards show on Sept. 10 might do away with a judged ad competition. They have told us that is not what they intend to do.

But what they are intent on doing, in addition to organizing the September event, is helping to foster a real feeling of camaraderie that has been too-long absent in the local ad business, which has suffered mightily in recent years. Towards that end Matt Brennock, Liz Ross and Katie Juras -- the chief organizers of the upcoming CCC show --have also organized what they hope will be the first of quarterly happy hours to bring together all who toil in the local ad biz.

This first get-together is slated for June 25th at Lizzie McNeill's pub at 400 N. McClurg Court, beginning at 6 p.m. And we're happy to say that Stephen Leps and his crew at Zig/Chicago have stepped up to sponsor this first gathering for all who call themselves Chicago ad folk.

So mark your calendars. And let the camaraderie begin.



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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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