Chicago Advertising Blues

In today’s Chicago Sun-Times, Lewis Lazare highlights a letter he received from a local post-production veteran:

Copywriters were hired for the number of tattoos and piercings on their bodies rather than writing skill or cleverness. Chicago agencies brought people in from the West Coast and London to give their places a cool vibe, not to sell a client’s products. Now the entire scene is disintegrating because advertisers still want to sell stuff, but too few people in the ad business know or care much about doing that persuasive “sell thing.”
Also the pompous and condescending attitude that local ad folk have toward Chicago production and editing talent has been painful for the whole community. Oddly enough, I spoke to Graham Woodall (just fired from his job as JWT/Chicago’s creative leader) at his “Welcome to Chicago” party a few years back.
After introducing myself and my Chicago-based company, Woodall peered at me and snorted: “I only work in New York or London, sometimes L.A.” I said we have wonderful editors here. He said something like “that’s interesting, but I have my favorites in New York” and walked away. I thought to myself, this guy is going to ruin JWT, as he is a self-absorbed clown. In the meantime, my business has declined from a fun and busy place to a shell of its former self.

It’s a potent reminder that the ad industry itself has all sorts of vendors–photographers, production houses, etc.,– that are also struggling to navigate the new media landscape, as well as the old attitudes of self-appointed creative stars.

About Dan Goldgeier

Blogging on AdPulp since 2005, Dan Goldgeier is a Seattle-based freelance copywriter with experience at advertising agencies across the U.S. He is a graduate of the Creative Circus ad school, and currently teaches at Seattle's School of Visual Concepts. In addition, he is a regular columnist for Dan published the best of his columns in a book entitled View From The Cheap Seats: A Broader Look at Advertising, Marketing, Branding, Global Politics, Office Politics, Sexual Politics, and Getting Drunk During a Job Interview. Look for it on Amazon in paperback and e-book editions.


  1. Wow, it reads like Lazare wrote himself a letter.

  2. While I don’t think the guy’s wrong, whenever I talk to vendors at events, I want to get away as soon as possible too.

  3. “In the meantime, my business has declined from a fun and busy place to a shell of its former self.”
    Sadly, that statement applies to the agencies, clients and nearly every professional organization connected to the ad industry.
    The writer makes some valid points and some debatable observations.
    Woodall is not the first to flame out in Chicago. It’s always amazing how big, shitty shops think that recruiting a talented individual will change everything. As Michael Jordan demonstrated with the Washington Wizards, inserting a superstar into a lousy institution will not necessarily lead to a championship. Revolution needs to happen on all levels. Woodall probably deserved to go. But what about the old school hacks who have maintained the status quo at shops like JWT? And let’s not exclude the dinosaur clients. A shop like JWT has a better chance of success by simply rededicating and refocusing with people already on staff. But it’s going to have to be a total, committed effort.
    Regarding the production vendors in Chicago, well, gotta disagree with the writer. Having worked in Chicago for many years, I’ll confidently say the production vendors do not come close to matching NY or LA. Sorry. Although people like the writer will vehemently argue their case until eternity. There are a handful of decent directors. But the acting talent is small.
    Chicago does have a lot of outstanding editors, and the city easily rivals both coasts in that area. There are quite a few great music houses too. Plus, great photographers.
    But the directors and talent are not stellar.

  4. Perhaps it’s the talent agencies that lack, because, as I’m sure you know, Chicago is the indie theatre capitol of the U.S. with something like 100 different theatre companies. I’m partial to Straw Dog myself, but that’s just me.

  5. No doubt that Chicago has a strong indie theater community. But it hasn’t translated to commercial talent. And I think you’d be hard-pressed to argue Chicago talent rivals the New York or LA scenes. Although I’m sure die-hard Chicagoans would whine over that statement.