Energy BBDO’s big new accounts just keep coming

Energy BBDO’s CEO Tonise Paul has good reasons to smile

We noticed it from a distance.  Energy BBDO/Chicago CEO Tonise Paul had a little extra spring in her step as she approached her table Wednesday at the very clubby Shaw’s Crab House, where the maitre d is well aware of Paul’s preferred booth.

There is, of course, good reason for the ever-upbeat Paul to be even more peppy than usual these days.  Her agency has been on something of a roll (as the saying goes) in recent months.

First came the win she and her partners in the Northstar Lottery Group (Gtech and Scientific Games) masterminded by being named the first private manager of the Illinois Lottery, even though there remains some uncertainty surrounding that appointment in the wake of a highly critical report earlier this summer from the Auditor General of Illinois.

That auditor’s report raised significant and troubling questions about the protracted process that resulted in the selection of Northstar.  It remains to be seen whether the Illinois state legislature might reconsider the whole private manager procurement process in light of the auditor’s findings.

For now, anyway, Northstar is in place as the Lottery manager, and Energy BBDO remains the Lottery’s ad agency of record, which is perhaps what pleases Paul the most about her agency’s involvement.

S.C. Johnson is BBDO’s biggest account win of the year

But the Lottery, while not an insignificant piece of business for Energy BBDO, is small potatoes compared to Paul’s biggest coup of the year so far — namely landing half of the $1 billion dollar S.C. Johnson global ad account, a whopping piece of business she and Energy BBDO now share with Ogilvy.

As Paul said at our lunch, she was surprised by how few people in the ad world considered her shop a serious contender for the business over the several months in which the account review played out.

Indeed a poll conducted by Agency Spy several weeks before the winning agencies were announced showed Energy BBDO among the least likely agencies to triumph in the account review. Just goes to show, we suppose, how much public perception can diverge from the reality sometimes.

But Paul, looking at the situation from the inside, never considered her shop down or out of the pitch. And now she is busy incorporating S.C. Johnson into the Energy BBDO fold and helping piece together a network of BBDO shops to handle the business internationally.

Ever cautious about what she says publicly, Paul was reluctant to discuss any particulars about the S.C. Johnson pitch or the agency’s handling of the business going forward.

But S.C. Johnson is known to loathe publicity, and it’s not likely that any agency working with the Racine, Wis.-based home products company will be pushing the media to cover — or comment on — new campaigns for any of its myriad products.

Agency ‘blurriness’ due to shift in way agencies operate

Our lunch conversation also turned to the state of the ad agency business in general.  In particular, we pressed Paul to explain why so few ad agencies in Chicago — or beyond — now have a clear, discernible identity that could help make them top of mind whenever a client launches an agency review.

Paul agreed with us that most ad agency brand images are now considerably more blurry (we might say blander) than they were 20 or 30 years ago.  But she believes that has to do in large part with a fundamental shift in the way ad agencies operate.
No longer are there the great leaders that dominated the industry during its golden age — Bernbach, Ogilvy, Wells and others that made the ad industry seem a business of larger-than-life characters.  That era is definitely gone.

Rather, Paul said the ad industry has become more about integration — people with different areas of expertise in a more complex ad world coming together to work for a client and build a brand. From Paul’s vantage point, legends or legends-in-the-making no longer serve a useful purpose, really.

Still, that sad turn of events has made for a duller, more workmanlike (and dare we say less creative) ad business. But it’s the kind of ad business Paul believes works better for what most clients need in today’s marketplace.

Contact Lewis Lazare at