State Of The City: Chicago Ad Agencies

By SuperSpy 

We asked a few regional ad-bloggers and professionals to give us a run-down of how their state’s agencies are fairing these days. After reading Chicago Sun-Times journalist, Lewis Lazare’s Windy City round up, we decided to get our own opinion. For Chicago, we tapped a high level CEO of an agency to give us the low-down anonymously and astutely covering everyone from DraftFCB to Element 79 to Down Town Partners. Enjoy!



Lazare is not wrong. The Chicago advertising community has its share of issues. Let’s start with the Big 3…

Leo Burnett
Leo Burnett, once the hottest business card in Chi-Town is now a rusty, dated aircraft carrier. It won’t sink tomorrow but she can’t compete. Her MGMT (President, Rich Stoddart & CEO, Tom Bernardin) have been impotent for several years. And not to kill the military metaphor, but now LBCO finds itself settling a lawsuit with the United States Army. CCO Mark Tutssel is a big name, but more worried about global boondoggles than Chicago affairs.

DDB used to be the sexiest game in town, making hit commercials for its flagship client, Anheuser Busch. Not so much anymore. First of all, they don’t even possess all the beer business, having lost a number of shoot-outs, including some work to Euro RSCG. Last year their Chief creative Officer, Paul Tilley, jumped out of a window, killing himself on the sidewalk outside the agency. He has yet to be replaced. And what happened to Bob Scarpelli? The venerable CCO has seemingly abandoned his former post, if not the city itself. CEO Rick Carpenter is not the solution.

Draft FCB claims to be profitable, despite endless attacks on its MGMT from haters like Lewis Lazare and George Parker. For the most part their work blows. They are considered a hack shop, which is what you get when you cross middling FCB with a DM factory like Draft. The Wallmart fiasco will go down in ad history as one of the biggest implosions ever. Howard Draft is this city’s Donny Deutsch.

As for everyone else, here goes:

JWT used to be bigger in Chicago than in New York. After a series of bungling mishaps, client defections and firings, the place is barely – and I mean barely – hanging on. No CEO. No CCO. No future. They have, like, one client.

Energy BBDO
Energy BBDO won the best campaign of the year at the local awards show (CCC) with its outstanding work for Canadian Club. The agency saw its CCO (Marty Orzio) depart for NYC last year. He has been replaced by Chicago native, and former GCD at Publicis West, Dan Fietsam. This shop makes decent work. Though not as brilliant previous campaigns, the work for Altoids has merit. Still, rumor has it Wrigley is peeved. One to watch.

Far from perfect, Euro RSCG has turned things around. Ron Bess and Steffan Postaer proved the local press wrong, and resurrected the former “corpse” of an agency into a half way decent place. Work for Valspar and Effen vodka is nice. They recently picked up some key business from Kraft, sharing duties with McGarry Bowen. Yet, Circuit City just went into the toilet so they’ll need to replace that.

Element 79
Element 79 is reeling from some major client defections, including their flagship account, Gatorade. It’s a mystery how (and why) they are hanging on. The rumor is CCO Dennis Ryan and other big salaries will merge what’s left of this once-happening place into big sister agency, DDB. It’s an old rumor though.

Down Town Partners
Down Town Partners is a conflict mgmt agency of DDB. But with few clients it’s a moot point. Jim Schmidt is the CCO. He’s considered a good writer but so-so leader. They do nice work for Allen Edmunds shoes… but who cares?

Y&R Chicago
Y&R Chicago saw their CCO, Mark Figliulo split to Chiat NYC last summer. (What’s with Italians and New York?). They replaced him from within. This agency pretty much feeds on Sears and Miller. Two businesses that are touch and go and constantly in pitches. Account leadership at Y&R is mediocre.

Cramer- Krasselt
Cramer-Krasselt is an independent in reasonably good shape. Their campaign for Corona is tired but good. The agency won Porsche but has not impressed anyone with its work. Rumor has it CK boycotts the local awards show (not cool) but the same aloofness also told Career Builder to go fuck themselves (cool) when they got cheeky over Super Bowl advertising last year. Rumblings that CCO is a major tool. Still, One to watch.

Speaking of the CCC, it righted itself last year and the Chi ad community hopes to build on that success. It had better. The city deserves a quality ad club and show.

Other agencies in town of note:

Creative boutique, Two By Four, does good (not great) work and has a well-liked, well-respected creative leader in David Stephenson. They just moved into the city’s coolest office. But they’re small and, on any given day, could be wiped out.

Other small shops include Tom, Dick & Harry, Zig, Hoffman York, Paradigm Design and McGarry Bowen. On appearances, all are doing reasonably well.

Chicago has seen better days and those better days were once damn fine. Kraft, McDonald’s, Bud Light, Kelloggs, Altoids. All these brands and more owe much of their prowess to the Chicago style of building “big, enduring ideas.” If the once venerable Leo Burnett and DDB can’t get their act together, one hopes newer entities (CK, Euro RSCG, Energy BBDO) can pick up the slack.

More: State Of The State: Denver and State Of The State: Minnesota