In terms of holiday parties in Adland, few came close to Leo Burnett’s. But that doesn’t mean you can’t try!

December 9, 2010


Getting down with the boss!

One of my all time favorite Homer Simpson lines is when he refers to alcohol as the “cause and solution to all of my problems.” Let Homer’s sagacity serve as fair warning, because it’s time again for that bit of bacchanal known as the office Christmas party. While just about every business has some kind of shindig few do it with such desperate ardor as Adland. After all, we have a reputation to uphold. Everyone knows adfolk like to throw down. Hell, Mad Men devoted an entire episode to it. I think it ended with a drunken secretary mowing over the leg of an agency partner. One can dream, right?

Growing up at Leo Burnett Chicago, I can tell you I’ve seen more than one mother of all office parties. Back in the day, it was typical for the agency to spend several million dollars “producing” the annual celebration. Of course, back in the day we made commercials costing that much. All. The. Time. Ask Joe Pytka. I say produced because that’s the right word. As early as June teams were assigned to the Breakfast. Scripts were written. Storyboards rendered. Talent booked. And whoever was responsible had better do a good job of it. Nothing took priority.

The day started with a posh breakfast for everyone, followed by a 2-hour show, replete with speeches, skits, films and surprises such as the appearance of a celebrity from a current campaign. One time, in a salute to Marlboro, an agency leader rode up to the stage on a horse. This year, I hear Allstate’s “Mayhem Man” might be dropping in…through the roof?

But breakfast was only the beginning. As soon as the curtain fell, everyone rushed back to the office to get bonus checks. That’s right, everyone got a bonus. And I’m not talking about paperweights and tie clips. Most people received a noticeable chunk of their salary. Some more than that. Crazy, huh? Such were the joys of private ownership. You had to be there. Seriously. (BTW, Breakfast Day wasn’t some greedy 80’s scheme. Adman Leo Burnett started it. No bourgeois poofer, Leo busted his ass to succeed and expected all who worked for him to do the same. For the effort you were amply rewarded. That simple.)

After breakfast, you went to your group party for dinner and fellowship. Speeches were given, toasts made, that sort of thing. That night, every good restaurant in town had a group of us in.

Round two was the main event. Everyone converged on one or two of Chicago’s biggest clubs. Here is where the naughty happened. Remember- folks had been drinking since 8 AM and, in addition, were newly rich. It’s a heady brew. In the age of political correctness, our holiday office party was like a “Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free” card in Monopoly.

Nowadays, we scoff at this excess, and we certainly don’t partake in it, at least not to the degree I’ve described. But that doesn’t mean you won’t see the boss making out with a coat check girl, the weeping assistant, or the normally conservative gal from HR, empowered by Jaeger bombs, doing karaoke on top of the bar; in other words all the things that make holiday parties fun.

Obviously, as a reformed drinker I’m more of an observer. While still enjoyable, the last few years I’ve slipped out from my party well before midnight. Tonight I’m not even going. Taking my daughters to their riding lessons in the suburbs. Yee-Ha!

And yes, I’ve written about all this before. (What can I say? I’m attracted to the dark side.) Here’s a favorite post, retelling an office party story my father told me.

5 Responses to “In terms of holiday parties in Adland, few came close to Leo Burnett’s. But that doesn’t mean you can’t try!”

  1. JD said

    i feel hungover just thinking about the five Burnett Breakfasts I went to. My lord.
    It really cannot be described unless you;ve gotten through one.

  2. Stuart said

    Haha…I hate the awesome of this. #nevergonnaseethosedays

  3. Tracy said

    Between bad weather and a sudden and inconveniently located roof leak, we had to cancel our holiday party. Probably a blessing in disguise both personally and professionally.

    I used to have that Simpsons quote scribbled in a date book. Accompanied by one in which Ned Flanders describes the symptoms of a hangover and Homer tells him, “welcome to my world!” Make that definitely a blessing.

  4. Seffan, thanks for the memory of seeing Burnett folks all around town on Breakfast day. I know it is different today everywhere, but in those days as you point out the money was there and a good time was had bu all!

  5. […] a few weeks the Leo Burnett Breakfast will take place. I participated in 2 of them and I can say with fact, this is a major reason why […]

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