Tilford, Fassnacht face Draftfcb post SCJ challenges

Tod Tilford of DraftFCB/Chicago

Have you heard about Todd Tilford’s little red book?  Well, truth be told, it’s not so little. But it is red.

According to Tilford, DraftFCB/Chicago’s new chief creative officer, it is where he is constantly writing down thoughts, ideas or whatever it is he wants to make sure he remembers. Sometimes, he told us, he even draws in the book.

The not-so-little red book was the first thing that caught our attention last week at a friendly get-together with Tilford and Michael Fassnacht, his partner in running the local agency. The second thing we noticed, in case you’re wondering, was Tilford’s welcoming smile (as opposed to Fassnacht’s rather more guarded demeanor).

Tilford, who was just starting his third full week at DraftFCB, sat down and opened the red book as soon as he came into the corner officer where we talked at DraftFCB/Chicago.

And he never completely closed the book for the hour or so we were conversing.  Nor did Tilford ever write anything down in it while we were there — that is unless we blinked and happened to miss it.

Possibly nothing we talked about merited an entry.  Or perhaps Tilford was just too busy talking and reacting to use the not-so-little red book.

But we became even more obsessed with Tilford’s attachment to the red book when he politely declined to share with us any of his jottings in it.  Nor would he tell us how many of the books he has filled.  But he has been filling the books, we gathered, for a while.

East Coaster Tilford says he’s loving Chicago  

Tilford has spent most of his career as an ad man on the east coast.  So we were curious to hear how he is adjusting to life in Chicago.  It will probably shock no one to find out he’s loving it. So far.  And he was happy to get to Chicago just before Hurricane Irene last month tore through Connecticut, where he and his family resided previously.

Though he is not well known by many of the people working in advertising locally, he does have connections here.  One of them is none other than Leo Burnett/Chicago chief creative officer Susan Credle.

Her office was next to his at BBDO/New York, where for a time he was in charge of all design work for the agency.  BBDO is also where Credle spent her entire career before moving to Burnett two years ago.

Checking out Tilford and Fassnacht’s creative game plan

Draftfcb president Michael Fasssnacht.We had come to the DraftFCB offices because we were eager to find out more about Tilford’s and Fassnacht’s game plan for the shop coming off of a particularly rough patch.

The agency took perhaps the biggest hit in its history when longtime client S.C. Johnson said in late July it would move its entire $1 billion ad account from Draft and split it between Energy BBDO/Chicago and Ogilvy.

That decision ended a nearly 60-year relationship between DraftFCB and S.C. Johnson and created a big image problem for the agency that it will now be Fassnacht and Tilford’s challenging job to repair.

Some observers have said the S.C. Johnson defection is the kind of sharp blow that could make other DraftFCB clients suddenly start to consider their options.  But last week Fassnacht was displaying nothing but  confidence about his and the agency’s ability to avert any more major account losses.

For his part, Tilford is looking to the future, not back at the agency’s recent troubles.  He clearly understands that new business is one of his chief responsibilities, and he indicated he will not shy away from that task.

But we pressed Tilford and Fassnacht to tell us what will be at the heart of their effort to grow the shop in the wake of the catastrophic S.C. Johnson departure.

The agency will need to make the case for top creative

Their not altogether original (or surprising) answer was “the work.”  By that, the execs mean they intend to make DraftFCB’s creative product a reason for current clients to want to stay at the agency and for new accounts to come on board.

Most ad shops aspire to do great work, of course.  And most, we hasten to add, don’t really come close to achieving that goal, despite their best efforts.  But more to the point, great creative work certainly has never appeared (from the outside anyway) a truly top priority at DraftFCB.

But now, perhaps more than ever before, the agency will need to make that the case.  Because Tilford has experience with design and its important, but often overlooked, role in advertising, he said that will be an key element in his revamping of DraftFCB’s creative product.

As Tilford and Fassnacht also pointed out, the agency still has some solid pieces of business, including Boeing, KFC, and Kmart, to help establish a new creative standard. Altogether, there are 31 clients on the roster (above and below the line), according to an agency spokesman.

Did our visit with Tilford and Fassnacht convince us that great things are about to happen for DraftFCB?  Not entirely. But they are going to give it a try.  
We will see what happens.

Contact Lewis Lazare at LewisL3@aol.com