Good grades to McGuinness for positive DDB changes

DDB/Chicago CEO and president Peter McGuinness

So how’s he doing?  As Peter McGuinness rapidly approaches his first year anniversary on the job as CEO and president of DDB/Chicago, he at least has managed to now to bring some semblance of stability to an agency that was — for much of the past decade — in danger of imploding.

The shop is not fully righted yet, to be sure.  But things are better. There’s no denying Anheuser-Busch, long a lucrative, flagship account at DDB/Chicago, officially left the fold on McGuinness’s watch. But for all intents and purposes, it was already gone before his arrival.

And, a DDB account that had been a big Super Bowl advertiser in recent years, also exited DDB recently. But McGuinness insists that piece of business also was headed out the door before he took the reins.

So what, then, has McGuinness done to help restore some of the luster to a badly tarnished, demoralized agency that was, once upon a time, a creative powerhouse?

“We’ve had organic growth,” explained McGuinness last week over lunch, to which he arrived looking tanned and nattily attired in a seersucker jacket and summery boat shoes.

Though there have been big account defections, DDB has registered growth with several of its key, high-profile, long-standing clients, including McDonald’s, Capital One and State Farm.

Unsure of how easy it would be to win new accounts given all the baggage the agency had collected in recent years, McGuinness argues it was always his intention to make organic growth a priority.

McDonald’s, for sure, is one client for which the agency has produced strong work in recent months.  To its credit, DDB has gone back to doing an array of story-driven work for the fast food behemoth — work that harkens back to the great TV spots DDB did during the early years of that long-standing relationship.

Humorous commercials for Capital One also have proved popular and effective in the marketplace. And more of the same are being rolled out soon.

New creatives bring agency international POV

As is often the case when new management takes over at a shop, there has been considerable staff turnover.  With McGuinness’s partner at the top, chief creative officer Ewan Paterson, calling most of the shots, DDB’s creative department has been significantly overhauled.

A number of the new creative hires hail from agencies beyond American borders. Paterson indicated he wanted to bring a deeper, more international point of view to DDB’s creative department, and that is what he has made happen.

McGuinness also just hired away Isabel Schuler from Deutsch/New York as DDB’s new business development officer.  McGuinness had been doing most of the new business prospecting himself for the past year.  But for DDB to register further growth, McGuinness said the agency absolutely needed a dedicated, full time new business officer. 

McGuinness still is looking for two new executives to round out his top management team — a head of integration and an account management department leader.

On the search for new high profile accounts 

If there has been one big disappointment in his first year on the job, McGuinness concedes it was his inability to pull in a major high-profile new client that could temper the losses of A-B and

Of course, the DDB boss wasn’t happy about coming up short in reviews for HP and the Illinois Lottery during the past year. But with Schuler’s help, McGuinness said he and the agency will simply have to try harder in the months ahead. “Getting that big new account will be the icing on the cake for me,” said McGuinness, who noted there aren’t many tempting accounts up for review now.

So that big win still may take a while.

In the meantime, he and Paterson are in the middle of a massive remodeling of the agency’s offices in the Aon Tower.  Walls are coming down all around to create more open space that McGuinness hopes will encourage a more collaborative mindset among staffers and between agency departments. “We’ve finished one floor, and are starting on the second,” noted McGuinness.

DDB is McGuinness’ first real Midwest experience

And what of McGuinness’s adjustment to the city of Chicago itself?  Though he was born in suburban Buffalo Grove, he and his family soon moved to New Jersey, where he spent the majority of his formative years.  McGuinness’ ad industry career has centered primarily on New York and London. His move to DDB marked his first real brush with Midwestern life.

“I’m in like with Chicago, not in love,” said McGuinness.  For one thing, finding restaurants that he wants to return to frequently has been a challenge.

For what it’s worth, McGuinness maintains Rick Bayless’ Topolobampo — one eatery highly touted by many local foodies — is way overrated. A really good deli, McGuinness also noted, would help transplanted New Yorkers feel less homesick in the Windy City.

To mitigate any homesickness, McGuinness finds ways to return to the East Coast often.  He just spent a weekend in upstate New York visiting friend and yogurt honcho Hamdi Ulukaya, who founded the Chobani greek yogurt company (now the third largest yogurt purveyor in America). 

He also headed back east recently to indulge a passion for sailing. On that occasion, it was a relaxing 10-hour sail from Sag Harbor to Connecticut. Yeah, a man’s gotta have a little fun while he angles for that really big account win that would suggest DDB is fully back on track.

Contact Lewis Lazare at