Five of 2011’s biggest adbiz headlines and surprises

Leading advertising columnist Lewis Lazare recaps 2011 headlines

To say 2011 whizzed by is an understatement.  The year about to end was — everything considered — a pretty good year for the Chicago advertising industry.  At least compared to the three or four years that came before it.

Fewer accounts — of major significance anyway — left town, though a couple of big ones changed their local addresses.  Hello, Bud Light and S.C. Johnson!  Management changes prompted a few surprises too, none perhaps more so than Mark Modesto, who popped up at Marc USA/Chicago.

Despite the fact change is a constant, the city’s ad biz seems to have at least stabilized itself and, for now, much of the dire bleeding that was draining the life out of the industry seems to have ended.

We still wish we saw more signs of the local industry banding together to promote itself as a force to be reckoned with nationally. There has been much talk of community here and how to capitalize on it, but little evidence that suggests the talk is resulting in meaningful action.

Right now, we’ll just keep our fingers crossed that the momentum established this year will carry through into the new one, and that much more good news will brighten the coming months for everyone in the Chicago ad industry.

Here, in our opinion, are five of 2011’s biggest headlines in the Chicago ad industry:

1.S.C. Johnson names new agencies of record.  The Racine, Wis.-based home products behemoth stunned the world at the end of 2010, with the news that it was ending a nearly six-decade-long relationship with DraftFCB/Chicago and putting its entire account — worth upwards of $1 billion —  in review.

Then for seven months, S.C. Johnson kept the world waiting and wondering while it pondered its options.  In the end, it divvied up the business between Ogilvy and Energy BBDO/Chicago. 

The latter was something of a surprise selection. But many observers suspected S.C. Johnson at the last minute decided it needed a second major roster shop, just in case significant issues surfaced at Ogilvy. 

Though Ogilvy/Chicago is the home for that agency’s part of the S.C. Johnson business, sources say Ogilvy/New York is working on the account as well.

2.  United Airlines flies into McGarryBowen.  We figured a change was coming in the UA agency of record when the Chicago-based carrier announced a merger with Continental Airlines. And it broke our heart, because we considered the United work from now-departed Barrie D’Rozario Murphy/Minneapolis to be some of the finest advertising ever created for an airline. 

The new shop, McGarryBowen/New York, is untested, having never handled an airline account.  The first major campaign from MB is expected to break in early 2012.  We’ll see.

Mark Modesto3.  Ad agency management shakeups.  There were several as the year progressed.  One of the biggest came at DraftFCB/Chicago, where Todd Tilford rolled in to head up the creative department. 

Then ex-DraftFCB kingpin Mark Modesto showed up at Marc USA, the Chicago outpost of a Pittsburgh-based shop that has failed to make much, if any impression in the decade or so it has been a presence locally. 

Modesto came onboard at Marc along with new creative leader John Immesoete, a DDB/Chicago vet who spent the past several years directing commercials. 

And finally, Peter McGuinness signed on at DDB/Chicago as CEO to join creative leader Ewan Paterson in the monumental task of turning around one of the city’s legendary ad shops.

Tony Weisman4.  Sprint comes to town.   Though he loves to schmooze, Digitas/Chicago honcho Tony Weisman obviously knows how to keep a secret too. No one saw it coming, when Sprint announced very late in the year it would dump Goodby, Silverstein & Partners/San Francisco and make Digitas/Chicago its new agency of record. 

The new deal also includes Leo Burnett/Chicago in a supplemental role that isn’t yet fully defined. Bottom line:  The win will mean more ad jobs for Chicago.  But one note of caution:  Sprint is not in the same league with Verizon or AT&T.  And in this particularly volatile category, things happen fast.  Let’s hope nothing happens to Sprint before Digitas and the local ad biz can benefit from the big win.

5.  Illinois Lottery account review.   This development is going to give one lucky Chicago ad agency a chance to demonstrate its creativity.  The agency review was bad news for Energy BBDO/Chicago, which was dumped within weeks after Michael Jones was named Lottery superintendent.  But Energy BBDO’s loss will be a great coup for one of five semifinalist shops now contending for the account.  Jones is a stickler for great creativity.

The winner is expected to be announced in late January.  We can’t wait to see who gets the nod.

Happy New Year!

Lewis Lazare is taking a holiday break and his next column will appear Jan. 3. Contact: