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REGRETS?: Tough First Year for Chicago CDs By Jim Kirk and Beth Heitzma

In a little more than a year since four new creatives were named to tune-up the creative engines of DDB Needham; Foote, Cone & Belding; and J

Few campaigns have made other creative directors stop and talk. New business has slowed to a crawl, and business from current clients, an early sign whether or not a creative shake-up has worked, hasn’t flooded all three agencies.
But there have been no disasters either, which may buy Needham’s Bob Scarpelli and David Jenkins; FCB’s Eric Weber; and JWT’s Nina DiSesa some time.
‘The whole Chicago advertising industry is like a sleeping bear and the biggest noise is coming from it’s snoring,’ said Lou Centlivre, former creative head at Foote, Cone & Belding. ‘The industry here is frightened. They are scared so they are playing it safe.’
Needham’s changes have been the most far reaching since Susan Gillette hired ex-Wieden & Kennedy art director David Jenkins and promoted her protege Bob Scarpelli to the co-creative director position in mid-1991. She went on an expansive creative hiring spree that included Nancy Rice, Maureen Moore and Brian Fandetti.
With the exception of the recent $5-10-million Ameritech Cellular, and the Sola Barnes Hind win earlier this year, the agency has had little new business.
Scarpelli admits it has evolved slowly.
‘We have not always sold the strongest ideas and in some cases I or David have called the client, admitted that, and brought them better ideas,’ Scarpelli said.
Jenkins was not available for comment.
Scarpelli, like the other creative directors hired to run the big shops, has put himself on a three-year schedule and believes that some of the changes made aren’t visible to the outsider.
‘We are judged by the quality of our work and the billings. We are working on improving both, but it’s not going to happen overnight. The first year you figure out what you are doing, the second year you put people into place, and the third year you take off. We are in the middle of our second year and I think we are poised to really take off,’ Scarpelli said.
For Foote, Cone, the challenges have been quite different. With no creative director for 18 months, Weber, came in over three group creative directors: Bob Simon, Dave Moeller and Ethan Revsin. He has quietly brought in some younger groups. But insiders say Weber, who came from New York’s Young & Rubicam, has alienated his top cds, who had expected to be considered for the job.
Weber acknowledges that the first year has been difficult, and realizes some would like to leave. But he said he didn’t want to be a New York ‘wise guy’ and come in and fire people or bring in his own cronies.
‘My goal is that within 1 1/2 to 3 years people will say that FCB does the most interesting work in the city and ultimately the country,’ Weber said.
So far Weber has had limited new business success. The agency won, and later resigned, Sunbeam-Oster and added Kraft General Foods $15 million Louis Rich account following some spec work, but no creative shootout.
It is the New York based persona that some believe may be holding back Thompson’s DiSesa as well. The veteran McCann-Erickson creative who took the job in July of 1991, also said she in the midst of a three-year plan to get Thompson’s once-decimated creative house in order.
But the going has been tough, the agency lost the $35 million in business to its New York office late last year.
‘The first year was set aside to get our house in order,’ DiSesa said. ‘We are half-way through our second year, which was to start building (business) from within and get some from the outside. The third year is an all-out push for new business. So far we are right on track.’
She said internally one of the biggest changes she’s made is to put more account responsibility on the shoulders of the group creative directors.
‘That’s a big step for this agency to move,’ DiSesa said. ‘They lost a lot of business doing it the other way. There was something missing. I think the client felt the agency was more interested in doing the work for itself.’
Copyright Adweek L.P. (1993)