From The Chicago Sun-Times. A brief MultiCultClassics commentary immediately follows.
End of an icon: JWT folds up shop in Chicago
By Lewis Lazare, Media & Marketing Columnist
Rack it up to incompetence.
On Friday JWT North America President Rosemarie Ryan came to Chicago to tell the shop’s 50 remaining staffers that JWT/Chicago will shut down forever within the next 60 days, leaving the last vestiges of its Chicago staff without jobs.
It’s a stunning blow to the Chicago ad industry, which has seen almost nothing but one setback after another in recent years, and for JWT in particular, which for many years could lay claim to operating one of Chicago’s largest advertising shops. At its peak, JWT/Chicago’s staff numbered more than 800 in the 1980s.
But JWT/Chicago has been headed nowhere but down in recent years as the agency’s top brass in New York dispatched round after round of useless managers to Chicago who were ill-equipped to deal with the shop’s declining fortunes.
The last bombshell was Northfield-based Kraft Foods, which pulled nearly $200 million worth of business from the agency two years ago.
JWT/Chicago also has been without any on-site leadership for nearly two years, even as Ryan maintained she was managing the shop from New York. Amazingly, Ryan, unavailable for comment, told Advertising Age she had no idea why JWT/Chicago failed.
If nothing else, that sort of remark speaks to the woeful inadequacy of current leadership.
For several years it has been Ryan’s responsibility to know why JWT/Chicago was failing—and do something about it.
But even after the agency lost its Kraft business, Ryan seemed at a loss about what was needed to get JWT/Chicago back on track. Instead she kept insisting the Chicago shop would muddle through under her guidance.
It didn’t. Now there is nothing left.
On the one hand, it’s hard to imagine JWT/Chicago staffers were surprised with the announcement. At the same time, it’s another example of curiously insensitive termination notices. Hey, workers, you’ve got 60 days to clean out your cubicles. Perhaps Madison Avenue needs to remove the word Human from Human Resources.
The Chicago shop is currently defending in a review with the Illinois Bureau of Tourism. This news can’t help their chances. Why would the Illinois Bureau of Tourism want to retain an agency whose leadership is abandoning Illinois?
JWT was the first advertising agency to get zapped by a takeover in 1987—by none other than WPP Overlord Martin Sorrell. Despite an occasional positive blip, the ad firm has been on a downward spiral ever since. Didn’t they even throw the iconic Commodore overboard before letting the ship hit rock bottom?
Ironically, JWT/New York recently generated hype for itself with the JetBlue campaign featuring a clueless CEO. The place obviously looked internally for insights to develop that character.