Draftfcb’s dilemma should also concern other agencies

How many hits can we take?  Year after year, for more than a decade, Chicago’s ad industry has suffered body blow after body blow — leaving most to wonder how long this business could survive such a pummeling.

Well, the good news is there still is an ad industry in Chicago.  And it still has signs of life.  But the bad news is the bad news obviously is not over. Not by a long shot. 

Of course the big blow last week was the stunning announcement that brewing giant MillerCoors and its chief marketing officer Andy England had decided to pull all of its beer business from DraftFCB/Chicago — in one fell swoop mind you — and redistribute it among two other entities.

We use “entities” advisedly because one is an actual ad agency called Saatchi & Saatchi/New York, which gets the high-profile Miller Lite account. The other entity will be some kind of mishmash of people pulled together from various WPP agencies to handle the Coors brands.

This new Coors entity, whatever it winds up being called, will at least be based in Chicago. But most disturbingly, this new Coors entity also will do little to strengthen the individual shops that will contribute talent to it. If anything, the new arrangement will only serve to further muddy the image of Chicago as an ad hub with a collection of strong, distinct ad shops.

Not good.

Speculation about Draftfcb’s future

Meanwhile, all of this account upheaval has left DraftFCB/Chicago in a very bad place indeed.  Speculation has already begun about whether the shop can possibly survive another huge hit so soon after the massive blow it was dealt with the exit of the entire S.C. Johnson account last year.

The S.C. Johnson disaster was good for one thing, though: DraftFCB now knows how to slip into major crisis management mode in a hurry. 

Last week, the shop was quick to point out to anyone who would listen that it is well positioned to address this latest setback. Among other things, the shop said it was still winning boatloads of awards for creativity and already well on its way to making up for the huge hole in its account portfolio that resulted from the S.C. Johnson loss.

Those are fine things to note. But as anyone in the ad business knows full well, it really comes down so often to a delicate matter of image — something a raft of slick talking points don’t always readily smooth over. Spin hard though it might, DraftFCB has a big image problem to confront.

Draftfcb’s dilemma should concern other shops

And whether or not they want to admit it, the rest of the Chicago ad industry should be aware that DraftFCB’s problem is really an issue for everyone in this business in this town.  For what’s happening there is emblematic of what in recent years has humbled several ad shops in Chicago once considered giants in the business.

Need we remind you of how tough it has been for DDB/Chicago these past years — as veterans at that agency watched it lose J.C. Penney and then, most astonishingly, its Anheuser-Busch business. 

Under all new leadership, DDB is trying to come back. But the going has been extraordinarily slow. And the DDB/Chicago image, alas, is nowhere near what it was at the agency’s zenith many years ago.

Industry continues to take hits

While all eyes were fixated on the latest nightmare at DraftFCB, Chicago’s ad business was actually taking another huge hit.  Months ago we broke the story that drugstore giant Walgreens had quietly put its ad account in review, dealing a blunt body blow to agency of record Downtown Partners/Chicago.

This week Deerfield-based Walgreens completed the review that came down to finalists McGarryBowen and GSD&M in Austin, Tex.  In the end, Walgreens opted to put the business at GSD&M —another big blow for Chicago and Downtown Partners, which at the time of the review, was doing some of its finest work ever for the client.

The ad industry could improve

So to get back to where we started this column on the state of the Chicago ad industry. Things could be better.  A lot better.  

While we fret about the seemingly unending stream of bad news within the local industry, there are always reasons to stay hopeful.  Why just yesterday, Cramer-Krasselt/Chicago won out in a review for the Panera Bread Co. ad account.  Panera is a strong brand, and it should give C-K a good platform from which to show what it can do creatively.

Even sleepy giant Leo Burnett has looked less sleepy of late, having brought in Avis car rental and Bridgestone tire accounts  Yet we keep hearing rumblings that all is not well with Burnett’s flagship client Allstate. 

Will that day ever come with it can be said without reservation that Chicago is once again a thriving outpost within the global ad industry?  The best answer we can muster is a “maybe.”

There still is a great distance to travel.  It will take much hard work.  As well as great creative talent on deck.  And plenty of smart image management by strong leaders. But maybe it can happen.  Just maybe.

Contact Lewis Lazare at LewisL3@aol.com

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