I just returned from my stint at Portfolio Night –the 6th annual meet and critique for advertising students set up by IHaveAnIdea. In a format not unlike speed dating, old “pros” like myself review aspiring creative persons and their books, one after another, for about three hours. The event takes place every year in various cities around the world. For the second year in a row DDB served as host in Chicago.

First: Kudos to DDB.

Hosting Portfolio Night is a costly, time-consuming distraction for a busy ad agency -especially one that has weathered such difficult times. As with a lot of Chicago agencies, business has not been booming. More devastatingly, just months ago, DDB’s Chief Creative Officer, Paul Tilley committed suicide. Last year, that same man stood before a similar group welcoming us to Portfolio Night.

How easy it would have been for DDB to beg off. Justifiable too. But the show must go on. In the end it was affirming seeing all these young faces, their lives still in front of them. Yes, one creative light had gone out. But now countless others were looking for a spark.

Unfortunate then, the mean-spiritedness I discovered online. One blogger deemed Portfolio Night an excuse for leering, lechery and drinking. Not true. Not fair. Not good. If any cynics were present, DDB’s Worldwide Chief Creative Officer, Bob Scarpelli offered simple marching orders. In a video address, he asked we professionals to remember who’d helped us when we were green and vulnerable.

On a more professional note, I have to comment on the work. Not so much on the quality (a mixed bag) but on the content itself. Of the eight people I reviewed, I saw virtually no integrated campaigns. Just about every portfolio consisted of posters and print ads. One or two had a banner ad or a piece of guerrilla work. But I saw no DM, promotional work or interactive materials. None. Where were the tricked out microsites and new media? Where was the “branded content” and multimedia designs? Hell, where was the TV?

2008 and these were the newest generation of adults -the so-called “millennials.”  Yet, in some cases, I might as well have been looking at turn-of-the-century circus posters! Now I happen to love print and posters. But I’m old school. For me, that’s familiar media. That’s what my spec book looked like. Indeed, I dug into these beginners with gusto: This is a good headline. Did you try putting the product here? And so on…

It wasn’t until the cab ride home I realized how old-fashioned their books were. Made me smile. If, according to just about everyone, the advertising business is in the midst of a sea change then why wasn’t it evident in any of the books I looked at? It’s easy (though often incorrect) to point at big agencies and say we don’t get it. What about the Facebook generation? If they don’t get it, who does?

 

 

Paul Tilley vacated his post in unimaginably tragic fashion. But the fact remains DDB has no Chief Creative Officer. And now our creative community in Chicago finds itself beset by two more high profile defections: Mark Figliulo is leaving Y&R for a glitzy post at TBWA/CD in New York and Marty Orzio has resigned from Energy BBDO for an unknown job presumably in New York. Rounding out our foursome would be the long-time vacant spot at JWT.

Is this pattern indicative of something foul or is it merely coincidence?
Let’s review. One man committed suicide. The ECD from JWT was fired. Figliulo is taking an once-in-a-lifetime gig. And Marty Orzio is going home. Taken in the aggregate these circumstances hardly seem related or symptomatic of sea change.

Still, it does beg certain questions. Namely, is something wrong with our city’s advertising community? Last year Chicago’s creative awards show became almost as infamous as the great Clios fiasco in the late nineties. Look it up. Both shows were undone. The Clios are coming back. I am on a committee with other local creative directors to try and resurrect ours. Marty, Mark and Paul were on that committee. Clearly, we have our work cut out for us.

I do think we are our own worst enemies. Creatives are a cynical lot. Shadenfreud is real in our ranks, and not just in Chicago but everywhere. A byproduct of competition and creative insecurity, it always will be.

Yet, I don’t think Chicago is beset by worse circumstances than any other city. Orzio’s beloved New York has not been a Mecca of creativity for decades. And Figliulo is taking the reigns at a shop in more disarray than the one he’s leaving.

Other than a handful of shops around the country, who’s really tearing it up? Crispin. WK. BBDO. Not many.

In short, things are tough all over. But I like our chances –both my shop and Chicago’s. At Euro RSCG, the bleeding from previous years has stopped. And while I can’t rightfully speak for any other agency in town, A number of them are very capable of opening up their creative engines.

Some prominent ECDs are leaving, yes. But look at it this way. Now we have choice jobs in play. Who out there will fill them?

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