Fizdale Says Burnett Was ‘Slow To Change’

The restructuring of Leo Burnett’s domestic operations now under way was needed because the agency has been “a victim of our own success,” Rick Fizdale, its chairman and chief executive officer, said last week.
Speaking at a Chicago Advertising Federation luncheon, Fizdale said Burnett is substantially altering its shape, including dividing into seven mini-agencies, because it did not make changes over the past decade, when many other major shops were re-engineering themselves to meet clients’ shifting needs. “We believed we were inoculated against change, immune from having to change,” because “our star was never brighter” both financially and creatively, he said.
“One by one, [other] companies felt the ground shift,” Fizdale said, while Burnett “was slow to change. We felt too secure, and why not?”
Fizdale said he told agency staffers in announcing the reorganization that “to resist change is to risk being overwhelmed by the magnitude and speed of it.”
In addition to forming the mini-agencies, which Fizdale likened to General Motors’ separate divisions under common direction, Burnett is bringing in “out-of-the-box thinkers” to reduce the agency’s insularity and reinforce a “commitment to continuous improvement.” Larry Light, a branding authority and former Bates USA executive, and British account planning consultants Red Spider are among those outside the company who have been brought in to work with Burnett executives.
Fizdale also said Burnett is still interested in acquiring control of or interests in small agencies to expand its resources for clients, as it did earlier this year when it acquired a stake in medical agency Williams-Labadie. Acquisition of an equity stake in an undisclosed “urban agency” specializing in advertising to African Americans and Hispanics is being considered, the agency confirmed.
Fizdale said he mandated an “audit of our intellectual property,” such as its extensive library of Cannes award-winning creative ads from around the world to its database of commercial production houses. This is expertise the agency can leverage to “strengthen the bonds between brands and consumers,” he said.