No surprises in 5 agency finalists for Lottery account

So far so… well, so not according to plan.   The race to find a new ad agency for the Illinois Lottery has just begun, and already so much has happened that wasn’t necessarily expected to happen.

But first the latest development.  Tuesday morning, more than 12 hours after Illinois Lottery private manager (the first ever) Northstar Lottery Group was expected to name the four semifinalists for the Lottery ad account, the list finally was revealed.

And guess what?

Northstar and its five-person evaluation panel (more on them later) opted to name five semifinalists, not four.  They are, in no particular order, DDB/Chicago, DraftFCB/Chicago, Element 79/Chicago, Young & Rubicam/Chicago and Downtown Partners/Chicago. 

A longer-than-expected list, to be sure.  And that’s because the decision was made over the past several days to be more inclusive rather than less, in hopes of ensuring the best agency for the account is found.

The group of semifinalists is weighted toward somewhat larger shops, not the city’s small, but important group of boutique agencies that might have harbored a swell creative idea or two.  For all intents and purposes, boutique shops were excluded from the race because the original RFP indicated all agencies participating in the review must have a minimum 50 employees.

In an interview last week (more on that later) Northstar CEO Connie Laverty O’Connor said the minimum employee count requirement was important to be certain the account is properly serviced  and to protect Northstar and the state, as much as possible, from working with an ad agency that might suddenly collapse.

Only 13, not 50, agencies competed

In any event, the selection of the six semifinalists comes after the list of agencies who submitted proposals was revealed late last Thursday afternoon.  That information also was late in coming because Northstar abruptly pushed back the deadline for submissions to noon on Thursday from end of day on Wednesday. 

The surprise here was that only 13 agencies tossed their hats in the ring for the Lottery account — far fewer than the more than 50 shops that showed up on Nov. 17 for a presentation on the agency review by executives from Northstar and the Illinois Lottery.

Some notable local shops apparently decided to stay away from the race, including Leo Burnett, McGarryBowen and Ogilvy.  The newly-overhauled Marc USA/Chicago also was missing in action. At least one source told us Burnett has a history of not seeking business from government entities, but of course, it is famously known for having handled the U.S. Army account for several years. 

So the list of shops from which the new ad agency is to be selected might be shorter than some would have hoped, but now it becomes the responsibility of the all-important evaluation panel to decide which of the semifinalists will continue in the race.  

Right now, there are still supposed to be only two finalists selected in early January, but, with the way things have gone so far, that too could change.

Evaluation panelist names difficult to obtain

And what of that evaluation panel? Well, we can report it was a struggle to get their names out in the public domain. But we succeeded, despite repeated assertions from Northstar’s Laverty O’Connor in an interview last Thursday that she, under no circumstances, intended to release the names of the parties on the evaluation panel.

Laverty O’Connor’s reason for taking that stance?  She said she was determined to protect the “integrity” of the agency review process.  Given all the troubling questions that have been raised over the past year about the so-called integrity of the rather secretive process to select Northstar as the first private manager of the Illinois Lottery, we found Laverty OConnor’s  reasoning a bit hard to take, needless to say.

Plus we had been informed repeatedly that this Lottery agency review was to be as transparent as humanly possible. To have this kind of roadblock thrown up so soon seemed totally inappropriate. 

So we inquired elsewhere about the propriety of Laverty O’Connor’s stance, and, long story short, by late Friday afternoon of last week, the names of the evaluation panel members were made public.

Panel members have lottery industry experience

The panel is comprised of:  David Angelo, founder and chief creative officer at ad agency David & Goliath; Tammi Barlow, manager of corporate social responsibility at Northstar;  Jessica Powell, vice-president of marketing and advertising at Northstar; Tom Seaver, head of Seaver Creative Inc., a global marketing consulting firm based in Illinois, and Marco Tasso, vice-president of lottery and services for Lottomatica, which operates Italy’s lottery.  Tasso is also a consultant to Northstar.

With the exception of Barlow, all the evaluation committee members have experience of one sort of another with the lottery industry. 

As this review goes forward of course, the big question becomes whether these panel members have the ability to discern which of the five semifinalist agencies can deliver the best creative product to the Illinois Lottery.

There will be other concerns to consider in this evaluation process, of course, but from the get-go, great creativity has been a top, if not the most important, priority in selecting a new ad agency for the Illinois Lottery.

So as we watch and wait from the sidelines, the evaluation process goes on.  We don’t, however, necessarily expect it to go on without more twists and turns.  And surprises.  As we keep reminding ourselves, this is, after all, the great state of, uh, Illinois in which all of this is happening.

Contact Lewis Lazare at