Given the grim climate in Chicago (the weather, the economy, the government), I’m thinking it might be high time we celebrate the unheralded but quality work coming out of our city’s many agencies.

We hear a lot about what’s wrong with the people, places and things as it relates to the Chicago advertising community. I want to go another way. Hold to the good, as our pastor likes to say.

In this spirit, every day this week, I’m going to feature a campaign from a local shop that deserves praise… not punishment.

G-whiz, f you’re like me, you’re scratching your head over Gatorade’s first campaign from their new agency, TBWA. While not bad, the “G” work seems (to me) like a diluted version of Element 79’s deservedly famous “Is it in you?” campaign. Proof that clients leave agencies for reasons having little to do with the “work.” Speaking of Element 79…

On a decidedly smaller stage is their charming campaign for Harris Bank. “We’re here to help” was a decent concept when it came out but it is especially relevant now. Prescient even.

However, like the Burnett work for Allstate, it’s not likely to win many, if any, creative prizes. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t special. It is. Print and outdoor executions offer practical solutions to various mundane predicaments, juxtaposing a bank-related solve in clever ways. Synergizing the media enhances the campaign’s playful potential. The word jumble execution pictured here shows how much fun you can have being helpful.


Element 79 beat my agency for this account in a hotly contested pitch. Had they not, our campaign would have been, if I’m being honest, seriously reviewed and most likely scrapped by now for its brazen confidence and pride. “We’re here to help” is a humble message, which I’m sure resonates with jittery consumers.

While Gatorade may have been intercepted by another agency, Element 79 holds its own with this small but decent effort for Harris Bank.


This evening I have the honor of reading from my new novel, The Happy Soul Industry at an author party at Earhole studios in Chicago. Producers Lori Cook & Tom Wiebe are hosting the event.

This from Lori: “Our first author night, we are inviting about 150-200 people based primarily on author invitation lists. No cost to attend, but it is an advertising event – not open to the public. We have held an Earhole Art Party in April for the past 3 years and it has been a huge success in showing the hidden talents of people in the advertising community – we hope that this event will do the same thing for writers!”

Me too, Lori! I also hope I don’t embarrass myself. Reading from one’s own novel can’t help but seem a tad pretentious -like the word “tad.”  The only time I’ve read aloud before was to my children. Hopefully, a smattering of buzzed and distracted ad people will treat me no worse! Fortunately, I have company. This is the line-up and order for tonight’s readings:

Scott Balows (freelance) — Tales From Tanzania. 

Michael Stout (DraftFCB) — One Weekend. 

Steffan Postaer (Euro RSCG) —The Happy Soul Industry 

Scott Smith (Element 79) — Like Dizzy Gillespie’s Cheeks. 

If any of you, who have enjoyed this blog or my books, would like to come see us, we’d like to see you. I, myself, would be honored beyond words. Speaking of words, I better choose what I’m going to read.

Earhole is at 11 West Illinois St., 2nd floor. The doors open at 5:30 until 10:00. (Invitation is attached below.) If you cannot attend, please visit book’s website at or go directly to Amazon. Again, thank you for your readership and support!


In early 2001, I became Chief Creative Officer of a hybrid agency at Leo Burnett called LBWorks. About that time Element 79 began their new agency a few blocks away. Having this in common, I instantly viewed them as competition, two horses in a race. A race to what, I now wonder: more accounts, more awards, more billings? Ego can be a ridiculous thing.

In any event, there we were: options in a town not hard up for more. I think LBWorks began with about 50 or-so people and I imagine E79 did so as well. They had one acclaimed client (Gatorade) and so did we: Altoids. DDB and Omnicom backed E79. LBWorks had Burnett and Publicis. Like I said, lots in common.

We came off the blocks quicker, pulling in four new accounts in less than a year: Lexmark, Earthlink, Storagetek and Gateway. (Two years later LBWorks had a champagne supernova and the dream was over. Undone by our own success. it’s a good story but not for here.)

Slower to grow, Element 79 hung around, always doing exemplary work on Gatorade, gradually picking up business, and eventually becoming a real player in its own right. Creatively, only Nike had a better tagline in the category than Gatorade’s “Is it in you?” E79 possessed a potent offence, run by charismatic Chief Creative Officer, Dennis Ryan.

Not long ago, they beat my current agency, Euro RSCG, in a lengthy, emotionally draining shootout for Harris Bank. We busted our butts on that one and I was positive we’d won. And I was wrong. Element 79 had been a worthy nemesis.

Until, perhaps, now. With flagship Gatorade gone and all of Quaker leaving, it doesn’t look good. Ironically, they still have Harris Bank but you don’t have to be an accountant to know what that bills. Not enough. Not enough to feed the engines that fuel a mid-sized advertising agency like Element 79.

Maybe Element 79 has an ace no one knows about. Will Omnicom aid its wounded sentry? More likely, they will absorb the remaining troops, probably into DDB. And, of course, there will be casualties. The rumors are already out there. But if the end is near, let me be the first to offer salutations: You came. You conquered. You will be remembered well.

Which is better than most. Take the place I work at now. It’s previous incarnation (Euro RSCG Tatham Partners) ingloriously imploded, leaving dark stains in an all but empty building. Very messy.

The fate of Element 79, should it be time to talk of fate, will not be as gruesome. The epilogue favors a sequel, not a finale.