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An open letter to the Chicago Creative Community.

Yesterday, a fairly damning piece was published in Ad Age, no doubt ruffling some feathers in corner offices and cubicles alike (though really it shouldn’t come as a big surprise to anyone remotely observant). Rewind the clocks three weeks, and check out my response to a friend’s concern that Chicago was losing it’s luster and while he didn’t see the downfall coming anytime soon, it faced “a drought of potential….”

Well, no apologies necessary- and it is happening soon. it’s happening now. it’s been happening. I don’t know if “potential” is the right word though, I think chicago is held back by it’s legacy. The city is geared around (mundane) TV spots. The agencies are lead by people that made their careers in the TV age. it’s a 30 second spot town, period.

I don’t think TV is irrelevant, or even unimportant, but in the current landscape TV is only a piece of the brand puzzle. Yet it dominates 98% of these fuckers thinking. And at this point, i really don’t think there is any changing it, people are just set in their ways and they’re probably gonna need to get fired by their holding companies, or worse yet, just lose every account until the agency has to be reborn as something else. Hell, some have even taken the baby step of firing a ton of older guys who were sucking massive compensation packages to make room for young up and comers, but at the end of the day, they didn’t fire themselves- and i’ll leave that at that.

In light of Bob Scarpelli’s quote in the Ad Week piece- particularly the “The community has to make the commitment to reinvent itself and bring in talent” part, I’m revising my statement. The Scarpellis of Chicago don’t need to be fired. The need to (metaphorically) have their hearts ripped out on Bill Bernbach’s alter and unceremoniously be cast aside (that casting aside can and should be literal).

Harsh? Maybe, but not as harsh as watching ridiculously overpaid and under performing “Executive Leadership” steer the ship into an iceberg for 15 years and then turnaround and suggest hiring some outside talent should cure what ails us. You’re what ails us, dude.

Here’s a good story the sums up “The Chicago Way”. Chatting with some other industry folks, about a big pitch. The Client is introducing an essentially web-based product to a highly online market, and it doesn’t take a Nostradamus to envision a media plan that skews a wee bit digital. What’s the big Chicago shop take to the pitch? A TV spot, and some storyboards and scripts for more TV spots. Good job guys. Gaze into your crystal ball and take a rough guess how that pitch went.

Yet without fail, we all invariably find ourselves in some random Chicago theater once a year, while our respective agency CCO bitches at us for not being creative enough. Lately the speeches include a second, tacked on portion about the importance of “Integration”- which is usually far more ironic than insightful considering:

a) The guys still just want to cherry pick TV, and
b) Why in the hell are “full service” agencies so unable to present a cohesive integrated offering, anyway?

Isn’t that one of the whole advantages of the holding companies gobbling firms up, to present a comprehensive set of offerings to global brands? Yet, this constant dysfunction is a universal element throughout Chicago. Given where the agencies currently stand now on the integration thing, I starting to think the only thing “Full Service” meant in the 90s was “we have to get our scans and large format prints done by the Studio the company owns”- usually at fprices far inflated by what the open market would demand.

The $400 foam core mounted color laser prints might sound rather small in the grand scheme of things, but they symbolize the gross inefficiencies of these lumbering mega-agencies. The Ad Week piece rightly laments the lack of “indie” shops in Chicago, and rightly so. How much better would creative be if we could take all the money wasted and spent it on creative development instead?

At the end of the day, I suppose we shouldn’t be mad at the Scarpellis of Chicago. We should be mad at ourselves.

Day in and day out we all watch decisions get made around us- decisions that ignore the realities of the marketplace and where it’s headed- and we don’t say a word. Much like the lumbering shops that are grateful for their stale clients as long as they are paying the bills, we too are apparently grateful to take their paychecks and avoid rocking the boat. We don’t have the balls to say “You know what, that’s a dumb, out of touch idea” when we hear one, and we don’t have the courage to tell Bob Scarpelli that what he said in Ad Week left a foul taste in our mouth when we see him in the elevator.

Chicago has to change- everyone can see that, from commentators in the media to agency staffers, all the way up to the Bob Scarpellis. Chicago simply has to do something radical to get relevant again. What doesn’t make sense, at least none that I can see- is how anyone expects that to happen when we have the same handful of mega-agencies being run by the same guys that got us into this mess in the first place. Massive disruptive seismic shifts don’t happen in neat little meetings- they take a fucking asteroid obliterating something.

Nick said,

May 16, 2007 @ 9:22 am

*golf clap*

Jason said,

May 16, 2007 @ 10:39 am

I agree, and consider: We now have at least two World-Wide CCO’s (DraftFCB’s Jonathan Harries and DDB’s Bob Scarpelli) who were the CCO’s of their network’s Chicago offices immidiately preceeding their appointments to WWCCO. I would expect they’d be more involved in stemming this tide of “Blah” that’s happening here. It’s not like they don’t know all the players.

Jreidko’s Blog » Three Articles: Two Punches, One How-to said,

June 11, 2007 @ 9:27 am

[...] For a suitable passionate response check out this post on MSBS. [...]

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