Weisman instrumental in Digitas’ “Team Sprint” win

Tony Weisman leads Digitas’ “Team Sprint”

Did someone mention turnaround?  Yes, for the first time in a very long time, there are substantial signs of a discernible, hope-engendering turnaround in the fortunes of Chicago’s beleaguered advertising industry.

Two very positive events  over the past seven days certainly suggest it might be a mistake to turn one’s back on the ad business here and leave it for dead, as we might have been tempted to do a couple of years ago.

First, Sprint decided to tap a unit of Digitas/Chicago that will be called Team Sprint as its new lead agency, replacing Goodby, Silverstein & Partners/San Francisco.

Then, in short order, InBevAnheuser-Busch opted to name booming McGarryBowen/Chicago as the lead shop for Bud Light, with Translation/New York stepping in to handle Bud Light line extensions.

MB and Translation formally replace DDB/Chicago as the lead Bud Light roster agency — a once-gilded relationship that dated back to the early 1980s.  The move to pick McGarryBowen was not entirely unexpected.  The shop had worked on projects for the Bud Light brand previously, and clearly, a relationship with the shop was established.

And somehow, we suspect, the zeitgeist at McGarry appeals to A-B marketing kingpin Paul Chibe, who previously worked at chewing gum behemoth Wm. J. Wrigley Jr. Co.  Wrigley’s longtime lead agency Energy BBDO/Chicago has always been an exceedingly well-behaved shop, eager to do the client’s bidding.  And MB seems to operate similarly.

Certainly the bigger surprise of the two aforementioned new business developments (both of which will generate plenty of jobs in the local ad world, and that’s a good thing) is the Sprint account reassignment.

Digitas’ Weisman instrumental in Sprint account

What particularly caught our attention in the swirl of stories as that news broke last week was the frequent mention of Tony Weisman, the head of Digitas’s Chicago office.

For those who may not be intimately familiar with local ad history, suffice it to say Weisman is another true veteran of the local ad scene.  We hadn’t seen his name bandied about all that much since he migrated to Digitas and took the top position there a few years ago.

But Weisman was sure in the news last week. Digitas North American CEO Colin Kinsella was super quick to lavish huge heaps of praise on Weisman in the wake of the Sprint win.  In a note to Digitas staff Kinsella said: “In particular, Tony (Weisman) was, and is, undeniably instrumental in this remarkable win.”

When we heard Weisman and his so-called Digitas “swat team” were being given the majority of the credit for the Sprint account win, our thoughts raced back to a similar kind of win that — for a short while anyway — rocked Chicago and the global ad world even more than this unexpected Sprint account switch.

Weisman a key figure in DFCB’s earlier Walmart win

We refer to DraftFCB/Chicago’s win of the big Walmart account in 2006 — a win that lasted for only about six weeks until Walmart unceremoniously yanked the account and ultimately moved it to the Martin Agency in Richmond, Va., where it remains. Among its other reasons for the abrupt agency switch, Walmart had become suspicious of how its then marketing exec Julie Roehm had conducted the agency review.

Those who followed the huge amount of press (and the scuttlebutt) that came in the wake of the dumping of DraftFCB also would have discovered that Weisman, then a top lieutenant of DraftFCB leader Howard Draft, was a key figure in that agency’s effort to woo Roehm and land the Walmart business.

Weisman, in other words, has a demonstrated skill when it comes to new business. “He’s a great schmoozer,” explained one local ad man who knows Weisman.

But for all the effort Weisman apparently made to get Walmart on the DraftFCB roster, that was quickly forgotten when things turned sour.  In fact, sources say Weisman had already departed DraftFCB when Walmart pulled the $600 million account from the shop.

Team Sprint offers important consumer buying data

Which brings us to Weisman’s latest Sprint coup.  Sources at Sprint tell us this switch wasn’t so much about Sprint searching for a better agency, but more about consolidating agency resources in one convenient spot nearer Sprint headquarters in Kansas City, Mo.  “Goodby did good work,” said a Digitas source.

Who said the ad world is fair? Not us, for sure.

But now Sprint will have considerable digital expertise at Digitas and a large general market shop in Leo Burnett/Chicago that can provide whatever support Weisman’s Digitas team isn’t fully equipped to offer.  But one thing is clear:  Digitas, not Burnett, will be calling the shots on this business.

One thing Weisman and his group can make available to Sprint for sure is a lot of very detailed data about consumer buying behavior — a capability that Weisman and his former team at DraftFCB used effectively in its Walmart pitch.  Weisman kept that capability in his back pocket for future use.

But will Team Sprint prove a winning formula for their client, which is still struggling to compete with category leaders Verizon and AT&T, both of which spend bundles on marketing?

“This is no Enfatico”

Certainly there is nothing but optimism inside the Digitas camp.  “This is no Enfatico,” a Digitas source assured us.

That source was referring to an agency cobbled together several years ago by the WPP holding company to service the Dell computer account. 

Within 18 months after it was announced, however, Enfatico had collapsed, and Dell had decided to go in a different direction with its advertising needs.

Things happen, and not always for the best, in the ad world.

That’s not to say history is necessarily going to repeat itself in regards to Team Sprint.  Weisman just may have gotten a more lasting victory this time around than was the case with his short-lived Walmart triumph.

In which case, fingers-crossed, it will be good for Weisman.  And it will be great for the Chicago advertising industry.

Contact Lewis Lazare at:  LewisL3@aol.com.