The Windy City Ad Scene Goes Cold

Crain’s Chicago Business takes a closer look at the city’s advertising scene.
You can tell by the title of the article that the perception is it ain’t too good there: Dream of Chicago ad revival is dashed:

The city’s ad agencies, decimated after years of losing headquarters and major accounts, seemed poised to regain their fizz when local player DraftFCB Group aced out Madison Avenue in winning the Wal-Mart Stores Inc. account.
Instead, Wal-Mart’s sudden removal of Draft from the $580-million account has delayed the road test of a new industry model — a leading-edge attempt to combine direct marketing with traditional advertising — that promised to revamp Chicago’s competitiveness as an ad center.
After booming in the 1990s, ad industry and related employment in Cook County dropped nearly 15% during the three years ended in 2004. While the slump mirrors national trends, industry globalization has hurt Chicago more than New York, despite Chicago’s proximity to packaged goods, auto and other industries that formed the backbone of the ad business here.

Any AdPulpers in Chicago wanna weigh in on this? Is it really that bad up there?

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. chicago is the land of the lumbering, publicly-held ad giants. and it hasn’t reacted particularly well to the recent fundamental changes in the business.
    The biz in chi-town is still overwhelmingly composed of big TV production factories that only pay lip service to “new” media. which doesn’t bode well for the future.

  2. First of all, the Crain story opens with an inaccuracy by attributing “Where’s The Beef?” to Chicago. While the commercial director was Chicago-based, the ad agency (Dancer Fitzgerald) is not. Why does our industry remain so fuzzy to the rest of the world?
    That aside, there’s not a lot to add to veedub’s remarks. Except that the Chicago market is not significantly worse than any other major market. Madison Avenue is hardly setting the world on fire.
    It’s also interesting to see how DraftFCB’s pr machine is hyping their allegedly innovative new model. To be clear, it’s not a new model. Many other agencies (in Chicago and beyond) have attempted to merge divisions. The only big difference with DraftFCB is the fact that the direct response division appears to be leading financially. But insiders claim they’re hardly leading in terms of respect; i.e., the former FCB ad practice disses the direct folks (and as previous posts here and elsewhere have shown, DraftFCB is not respected within the industry). No one has yet cracked the code in this area, and there’s little indication that DraftFCB will manage to make things work.
    It really boils down to different business models generating profit in different ways. In many respects, the traditional advertising agencies are operating in outdated styles, at least in terms of generating profit. They seem incapable of “downsizing” their billing practices to match the tactics of “below-the-line” enterprises (one of David Burn’s least-favorite terms). Until someone figures out how to make the businesses work together from a cost perspective, it’s all just smoke and mirrors. And very expensive ones to boot.

  3. You’re right, I’m not fond of the term “below-the-line”, nor the distinction. It’s archaic. Elegant solutions to marketing problems need to happen in every media. Choosing the media for a campaign is like choosing a mode of transport–car, train, bicycle, boat or airplane. One isn’t better than the other. They all work toward the same end and each has its own advantages. The same is true for the various marketing disciplines.

  4. believe it or not, i completely agree with you, david.
    it’s still true, however, that the non-advertising-agency enterprises bill differently; i.e., they’re not high-priced/over-priced like the traditional ad agencies.
    this remains a key issue when divisions merge, like the case with draftfcb. watch what happens when the formerly separate companies try to merge p&l’s. that’ll be a story worth crain’s time.