Evaluating the odds of five Lottery account finalists

We now know which five ad agencies (all in Chicago) have a shot at nabbing the Illinois Lottery account, with the winner expected to be announced in late January.

Those five shops — DDB, DraftFCB, Element 79, Downtown Partners and Young & Rubicam — were tapped to move on from a group of 13 shops that initially submitted proposals a week ago.

For the record, the eight shops that did not make the initial cut are: Euro RSCG/Chicago: Schafer Condon Carter/Chicago; Olson; Gertrude; Blue Chip; Burrell; RPM Advertising and Corn Fed Advertising.

Representatives from the five remaining semifinalist agencies were slated to meet today with Northstar Lottery executives.  At that meeting, the agency reps will find out about an assignment all will work on and present as part of their respective pitches for the Lottery account in early January.

The fact that all agencies will be together for today’s meeting means the competitors will have ample opportunity to stare down each other as this key part of the selection process commences.

So what of the semifinalists?   What does each bring to the table in this review and which shops, based on their respective agency cultures and creative track records, might be considered the frontrunners in this race?

DDB restoring its luster

Let’s start with DDB/Chicago.  All who know this shop know it has played a major role in the history of Chicago advertising.  But over the past decade the agency has struggled mightily due to poor management. That resulted in  a downgraded creative product and several high-profile account defections, notably including Anheuser-Busch.

But about 18 months ago, DDB parent Omnicom Group apparently decided enough damage had been done.  The newest round of top management, chief creative officer Ewan Paterson and CEO Peter McGuinness, seem determined to restore a lot of the luster to the DDB/Chicago brand. They have hired several new creative teams (four in recent months) and are aggressively seeking new business.  A Lottery win could be another strong indication the turnaround is working.

Should DDB emerge triumphant, it would not be the shop’s first brush with the Lottery account in recent years.  DDB had the Lottery business in 2002, but resigned the account a short while later.  The official reason was “creative differences,” but sources told us at the time the real reason was DDB’s refusal to create advertising targeting the African American market, which was what Lottery execs at the time were said to be demanding.

DraftFCB seeks creative redemption

DraftFCB is perhaps the most controversial choice among the five, if only because it has suffered  from a reputation — right or wrong — of having an inferior creative product, at least relative to other shops in town.  But like DDB, DraftFCB has a  new creative leader in Todd Tilford, and he may be hellbent on making a statement with this Lottery pitch.

Should DraftFCB win the account, however, there are sure to be whispers after the fact.  For it is a well-known fact that DraftFCB was a partner in the consortium headed by Michael Jones that had intended to vie for the private management contract to run the Illinois Lottery. But Jones’s consortium ultimately opted not to participate.

Now Jones is the Illinois Lottery superintendent, although much of top management at DraftFCB has changed in the 18 months since Jones and the agency partnered.  Because of the lack of a strong creative rep in the market and to defuse any suggestion the fix is already in for the shop, DraftFCB is sure to come out fighting.  Will it be enough?

Element 79 had had “moments of brilliance”

Element 79 is another Omnicom Group shop that has persevered through some extraordinarily tough times in recent years.  The agency watched huge chunks of PepsiCo business, including Gatorade, abruptly exit, forcing a major downsizing of the shop’s staff.  Still, headed by Brian Williams, Element 79 has soldiered on.

Element 79 may not be known as the most creatively brilliant shop in town, but there have been moments of excellence.  We think the work the shop has done for BMO Harris Bank best exemplifies Element 79’s creative profile — solid, intelligent work with a clear message that well suits the client for which it was developed.

Two talented creatives lead DP

Downtown Partners is the third Omnicom shop in the hunt for the Lottery account.  DP is not large, but it is fronted by two of the city’s most respected and talented creative honchos — Jim Schmidt and Joe Stuart.  When these two are at the top of their game, they can do work that truly dazzles.

The DP guys tend not to go for flashy. Rather their work is usually simple, subtly witty and, occasionally, quite affecting.  Their latest high-profile commercial for Walgreens, featuring identical twins Edith and Ellen, is a good example of a straightforward, fun idea that  resonated with tens of thousands of viewers nationwide.

Y&R’s Winter works creatively hard

Finally, there is Young & Rubicam, which kissed goodbye to the Sears brand advertising account last spring.  But the agency has a chief creative officer in Bob Winter who cannot be discounted.

If nothing else, Winter must be applauded for creating one of the best Bud Light ad campaigns of all time — “Real Men of Genius.”  That work (still running a decade later),  mostly heard in the form of radio commercials in this country, managed to be funny and stunningly smart at the same time  — something all too rare in the beer category.

Winter has proved he can produce, and we suspect he will be working hard to make that eminently clear to the evaluation panel that will select the two finalists for the Illinois Lottery ad account.

DP and Y&R might be creative contenders

So who are the frontrunners, based on what we know today? 

If creativity were the sole criterion (and alas, it probably won’t be), we put Downtown Partners and Young & Rubicam at the top of the pack. DDB would place next on the betting chart, with DraftFCB and Element 79 the dark horses in the bunch.

If DraftFCB and Element 79 are able to pull it all together when they pitch, either certainly could come from behind and win.

The next several weeks promise to be busy ones for the folks at the five semifinalist shops.  They have an assignment to complete and pitch presentations to polish.  Early January will come quick enough, and each will have to be ready to bring out their best stuff.

Let the race carry on.

Contact Lewis Lazare at LewisL3@aol.com