Burnett Execs Explain Cuts

Leo Burnett executives presided over “town meetings” with their staffers last week in an effort to explain why axing 200 of their co-workers will make the agency stronger.

Burnett Worldwide president Bob Brennan and U.S. CEO Brad Brinegar outlined their plans for the agency to a staff unsettled by the 9 percent cut. They encouraged workers to “add value” to everything they do. The message from Brennan, whose success at the Starcom MediaVest Group led to his job at Burnett, was described as uplifting by several attendees.

“You can’t help but get inspired by Bob; look at what he did at Starcom,” said one staffer.

The layoffs, rumored for months and scheduled for weeks, cut across all disciplines and were positioned as an attempt to “stay ahead of the curve” in anticipation of slowing economic growth and the loss of the agency’s $300 million Oldsmobile account over the next three years, Brinegar said.

While several sources pointed to the upcoming initial public offering of Burnett parent company Bcom3 as a major impetus for the cuts, Brinegar denied that eventual public ownership was a factor. He said Bcom3 Group CEO Roger Haupt has issued no orders to trim staff in advance of public ownership.

“We took a very deep look at every department and every account,” Brinegar said.

Still, sources said the layoffs could be the start of a turbulent year at Burnett. Changes are expected because of the IPO and because Brennan is known as an executive who shakes things up. Some high-salaried, top executives at the agency can expect to be left out in the shuffle, one source suggested.

The displaced workers were offered compensation plans that were “far more generous” than one floated by sources, which suggested those laid off would get a week’s pay for each year of service, Brinegar said. He would not offer further details.