The race for Lottery business will be watched closely

Jessica Powell, Northstar Lottery Group VP

So the race  is on to find the new ad agency of record for the Illinois Lottery.  And from what we know now, it promises to be one of the most interesting races ever run for a piece of business here in the, uh, great state of Illinois.

Representatives from more than 50 agencies showed up last Thursday at the Gene Siskel Film Center in the Loop to hear newly-named Illinois Lottery Superintendent Michael Jones and Northstar Lottery Group vice-president of advertising and marketing Jessica Powell talk about the process of picking a new ad agency for the Lottery.

That process will play out over the next couple of months, with a new agency of record — announced on or around Jan. 20 — that will replace Energy BBDO/Chicago.

Last winter, Northstar Lottery Group, comprised at the time of Gtech, Scientific Games and Energy BBDO/Chicago, signed a 10-year contract to privately manage the Illinois Lottery.

As Powell indicated in a phone interview Monday, she certainly didn’t expect to be in the position of replacing Energy BBDO so soon into Northstar Lottery’s tenure as the first-ever private manager of the Lottery.

But we suspect Powell also wasn’t planning on Michael Jones being named in October as the Lottery’s new superintendent. Jones’s appointment coincided with the separation of the Lottery from the Illinois Department of Revenue. The Lottery now operates as its own department within state government.

Powell’s big job is finding a new Lottery agency

A lot happened in a hurry after Jones’s appointment, including the decision to dismiss Energy BBDO and search for a new ad agency of record on a fast track. Though she will have a new agency soon, Powell wasn’t about to diss the Energy BBDO Relationship in her chat with us. 

“I’m very proud of the work we did together,” said Powell. But others, apparently, had a different opinion.  Hence the agency review now in progress.

Powell’s appointment to the marketing job at Northstar, as it turns out, wasn’t her first brush with Energy BBDO. She was at the agency from around 2005 to 2008 as an account director working on new business, though that info, for whatever reason, was not included in her official bio.

Powell has worked previously at several other ad agencies, including DDB/New York, Leo Burnett/Chicago and David & Goliath in Los Angeles.  At various times in her career, she has done marketing work on the agency side for both the California Lottery and the New York Lottery.

But the big job before her now is finding a new ad agency for the Illinois Lottery.  The deadline for responding to the Request for Proposal (RFP) that Northstar put out last week is Nov. 30.

Burnett absent from agencies seeking the business

If the list of agencies that attended last week’s presentation by Lottery and Northstar officials is any indication, just about every ad agency in Chicago looks to be hungry to get their hands on this piece of business.

According to records provided by Northstar, the only shops notably absent from the gathering were Tom, Dick & Harry Creative, Leo Burnett and McGarryBowen. 

Powell, of course, is familiar with Burnett because she worked there previously. And she would know at least one of the creative powers at MB, namely Ned Crowley, because she worked on the Disney account while at Burnett.

To help the agencies that attended last week’s gathering understand what kind of creative firepower she is looking for in a new shop, Powell presented some samples of work she likes, including a two-minute spot for Sapporo beer, work for online financial institution Allied Bank and a couple of Walmart commercials.

Powell’s presentation also included some executions for a United States Tennis Association print campaign that is one of her all-time favorites.  That would be the “Find Your Court” campaign  from Hill Holliday/New York.  The quality of the photography, which includes shots of various tennis courts, is what particularly impressed Powell. Plus, she is a tennis player, so the work resonated more than it otherwise might.

Review panel of experts being assembled

Powell now is busy putting together a panel of experts who will review all the submissions from interested agencies. That panel will be comprised of experts in retail, creative advertising, overall marketing strategy, corporate social responsibility and a fifth panelist with overarching experience in lottery marketing. Other than herself, Powell said she isn’t prepared yet to reveal who will fill out the panel.

The panelists will review the submissions from agencies and score each on a point system.  Four semifinalists will be notified Dec. 5, with those four to be handed an assignment shortly thereafter for their final pitches on Jan. 5 and 6, 2012.  The field will be narrowed again to two finalists that will then come back to Northstar with their staffing and pricing plans.

With that additional information in hand, Northstar will crunch everything and recommend a winner to Jones as early as Jan. 20, but likely no later than the end of the month.

Powell also said that because she believes Northstar execs and Jones are now totally in synch, she does not expect the Lottery superintendent to have a problem with the agency that emerges the victor in late January.

However it plays out, we have that feeling this is going to be a race everyone will want to watch. And watch closely.

Contact Lewis Lazare at: