It’s over for DraftFCB. As many had suspected from the moment we announced last Christmas Eve that S.C. Johnson was launching an agency review, the Racine, Wis.-based home products company is ending its relationship with DraftFCB, a remarkable marketing marriage that spanned nearly 60 years.
Early Friday morning, S.C. Johnson said it will split its advertising account, believed to be worth upwards of $1 billion in billings, between BBDO and Ogilvy & Mather, long considered the frontrunner to get the account.
The Chicago outposts of Ogilvy & Mather and BBDO (known as Energy BBDO) will service their respective parts of the account.
Energy BBDO will handle pest control and home storage products, and Ogilvy will handle home fragrance and home cleaning product lines.
In a statement Friday morning, S.C. Johnson chairman and CEO Fisk Johnson said of the decision: “We employed a very rigorous process with very specific criteria, and both agencies fit best with our specific future needs and opportunities. It was a very difficult decision, and we truly value the many contributions DraftFCB has made to the success of our business over a long-standing partnership.”
The wins will prove a huge boost for both Energy BBDO and Ogilvy’s Chicago operations, as well as many other parts of the Chicago ad industry infrastructure.
For Energy BBDO, the S.C. Johnson win comes in the wake of a long effort to hold on to the Illinois Lottery ad account, though the final chapter in that tumultuous saga may not yet be written.
For Ogilvy/Chicago this win goes a long way toward making up for the major loss it suffered several years ago when retailing behemoth Sears consolidated its ad account with Young & Rubicam/Chicago, which only recently lost the brand portion of that business to McGarryBowen.
Todd Tilford faces hard challenges as Draftfcb’s new CCO
Of course, the loss of the entire S.C. Johnson account is a huge blow to DraftFCB in terms of both agency profile and revenue, but a blow the shop no doubt has been preparing for from the moment the news broke about the review.
Still it is a tough outcome for DraftFCB to acknowledge. “In looking at the highly professional way we have managed S.C. Johnson’s business over the years, as well as the strong results we have helped the company achieve for many years, it’s difficult to understand this decision, but we obviously have no choice but to accept it,” said DraftFCB CEO and President Laurence Boschetto on Friday.
“While SCJ has chosen to move its business to another agency (sic), we simply will dust ourselves off and move forward,” added Boschetto.
The account loss also comes just days before Todd Tilford is slated to take the helm as DraftFCB/Chicago’s new chief creative officer. Tilford now will be saddled with the grim task of deciding who stays and goes in his creative department, unless he can help the shop land some major new business quickly.
There would have been changes in the DraftFCB creative department, no doubt, without the S.C. Johnson catastrophe. But now Tilford’s job is more complicated.
For some while, it seemed DraftFCB executives had been trying to brace for the expected loss of the S.C. Johnson business by reminding reporters whenever possible that the agency had taken on the $750-million Nivea account. But the Nivea business is based at DraftFCB offices in Germany, not Chicago, though the local office does have a hand in servicing the account.
DraftFCB/Chicago also has won other pieces of new business over the past year, including Valspar paint and Tombstone pizza, but nothing that comes close to matching the S.C. Johnson loss the shop has now suffered.
What remains something of a mystery in this ugly turn of events for DraftFCB is why S.C. Johnson suddenly decided to launch a review and eventually dump DraftFCB after such a long, seemingly fruitful marriage. That S.C. Johnson opted to announce its review just before the Christmas holiday last year appeared designed to strike a rough blow during what is typically a festive season.
Speculation that SCJ’s loss was tied to Modesto’s departure
Most observers think S.C. Johnson’s decision may have been tied to North American president Mark Modesto’s abrupt departure from DraftFCB in August of 2010. In the days and months following the December announcement, S.C. Johnson would not comment on Modesto or any role he may have played in their decision to launch a review. The home products company would only say it seemed the right time to conduct a review.
During his long tenure at DraftFCB, however, Modesto had developed close ties to the S.C. Johnson business. And sources said he was personally close to the Johnson family that still has an important role in running the company with well-known brands such as Raid and Windex.
Since exiting DraftFCB, Modesto has kept a low profile. But he may be freed from his non-compete strictures as early as next month, and no one has ruled out the possibility he could turn up at another shop that will now be working with S.C. Johnson.
Where this body blow leaves DraftFCB/Chicago in the months and years to come remains to be seen. Truth be told, DraftFCB had never fully recovered from the horrendous shock in 2006 of winning and then abruptly losing just weeks later the giant Walmart account.
That embarrassment, prompted by allegations the Walmart review was improperly conducted, was a giant black eye for an agency that was set on becoming a powerhouse shop in Chicago.
If anything good is to come of this latest setback, Tilford and the rest of DraftFCB/Chicago management will need to step up quickly and begin to give the Chicago office a sharp, compelling creative profile.
Many in the Chicago ad community long ago had written off DraftFCB as creatively impotent. If Tilford can substantively change that perception for the better, he could earn a special place in advertising industry history.
But at this juncture, with so much difficult work to do, it’s a big “if.”
Contact Lewis Lazare at: LewisL3@aol.com