In the wake of JWT’s collapse, there is ample hope for the rest of us.

April 10, 2009

From the ashes, new growth.

I had a long conversation with the AdAge reporter who first broke the disheartening story about JWT’s demise. Jeremy Mullman wasn’t prodding about that agency; he’d already done his homework there. He told that sad tale. Instead he was considering the future of marketing services in Chicago. Funny, I told him, I’ve been doing much the same thing.

Clearly JWT’s passing begs many questions but, contrary to majority opinion, not all of them are bleak or discouraging. Frankly, I told Jeremy, there’s a lot to look forward to.

Yes, over the last few years, it was as if a fire had burned through the corridors of Ad Land. Few in Chicago were exempted from its fury. Yet from these ashes might we see new growth, perhaps healthier and better prepared for the 21st century?

I have ample reason to be hopeful.

In 2004, Euro Tathum Partners found itself in the same sorry shape as JWT. The advertising agency had been decimated by client defections and staff eliminations. Morale was low. An unhealthy fear pervaded the air. The local press named Euro a corpse and called for its burial.

Yet, in Euro’s case, the people, places and things were reassembled in such a way as to put it in good stead. It serves no purpose to tell that story here. You readers haven’t an appetite for braggadocio! Suffice it to say, Euro RSCG is viable and strong. For this we are a little proud and a lot grateful.

And we are not alone. Elsewhere, there is new growth or sustained growth. I urged Mullman to look for it, report it, and even herald it. For Chicago agencies, (ours included) need this support. Nourishment comes from many sources, including the trade press.

If big agencies put forth an honest commitment to ALL the marketing services (Digital, Direct, Promotion, Data and yes, even Advertising), they will do better than merely survive. Clients want and need a unified approach and, done properly, they will gladly pay for it.

Specialists have their place as well. As Mullman correctly pointed out, Chicago’s own Starcom leads all comers in media. In a recent column, Alex Bogusky sang the praises of small advertising boutiques, rightly extolling them for their creative prowess.

Paying lip service to one or, worse yet, fronting another causes decay and, as we have now seen, death. In George Parker’s remarkably intellectual book, The Ubiquitous Persuaders he uncovers these frauds and makes a harrowing case for new and improved models…or else. I urge you to read it.

And so, having arrived at a new and improved model, agencies (big or small) must make a genuine commitment to it. Those that do will prosper. These entities are the future of our industry –not just in Chicago but everywhere.

Mullman with AdAge is working on an extensive story about the future of advertising (or whatever were calling it) in Chicago. The piece may run as soon as Monday. In the midst of it all, I sometimes miss the obvious. Likely he won’t. So I look forward to his view. I also look forward to a better tomorrow. Easter is here and with it the story of resurrection. Likewise, spring brings new growth. Pray our great city finds evidence of both. I am confident it will.


2 Responses to “In the wake of JWT’s collapse, there is ample hope for the rest of us.”

  1. Phew!

    Steffan, your Tweet about this blog entry scared me at first. Thankfully, the entry itself dispelled the fear.

    I hardly disguise the fact that my dream as a young creative is to break into the Chicago Advertising World. While JWT’s departure hasn’t squashed that dream, it definitely made me more acutely aware of the state of things.

    The way it appears to me, there’s simply less room for mediocrity. I’m certainly not suggesting that JWT Chicago was a mediocre shop, simply that we aspiring Art Directors and Copywriters need to bring our A-Game.

    I’m looking forward to Jeremy’s interview. We’ll see if my optimism endures.

  2. SRP said

    Despite everything I’m an optimist. In the words of Harvey Milk: “You gotta give ’em hope!”

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