Chicago Olympic Bid Puts a Creative and His Agency At Odds

Incident Puts Out-of-Office Digital Activities in Spotlight

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CHICAGO ( -- An inter-Chicago spat over whether the Windy City ought to host the 2016 Olympic Games is proving to be a cautionary tale of sorts for agency personnel and their out-of-office digital endeavors.

The story starts with a tongue-in-cheek website critical of the city's bid, which attempts to make the case for Rio de Janeiro to host the games instead of Chicago. Much of the content is humorous -- such as comparing Chicago's South Side beaches to Ipanema -- but the site also contained some fairly biting criticism of what the games could do to the city's already-strapped budget.

The site's cheeky tone and biting statistics drew it some notice, and some published reports even speculated that it was actually planted by the forces behind the Rio bid. But when Ad Age's sibling publication, Crain's Chicago Business, put a digital sleuth on the case, it found the culprit behind the site was local ad exec Kevin Lynch, who is the top creative at local shop Energy BBDO's Proximity unit.

Now, such concerns are by no means out of the mainstream in Chicago -- where a recent Chicago Tribune poll found only 46% of residents in favor of the bid -- but they are far less common in the city's political and business circles. Case in point: The city's aldermen endorsed the bid, 49-0. Support among the business community is nearly as solid, with nearly every major corporation in town backing the bid to some extent.

And that's where things get complicated for Mr. Lynch and BBDO. After all, Energy BBDO's largest client, Wrigley, is a major supporter of the city's bid to host the games. And the shop has a major state account -- creative duties on the Illinois Lottery -- and has competed for other city and state accounts in recent years.

What's more: Both Energy BBDO and its parent company, Omnicom, have been active supporters of the bid. (Omnicom's Downtown Partners has been among the most active creative shops involved in the effort.) And Mr. Lynch himself, before joining Energy BBDO in June, had submitted several creative scripts for the effort, although they don't appear to have been used.

"I want to be clear: The agency is and has been fully behind the Chicago 2016 bid," said Energy BBDO CEO Tonise Paul. "Our clients are aware of our position and understand the situation. The individual acted on his own accord without the agency's knowledge."

Mr. Lynch didn't respond to an e-mail inquiry today, but -- faced with a barrage of local inquiries -- he posted answers to anticipated queries on his blog earlier this week.

On the blog, Mr. Lynch said he turned against the bid after Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley reversed his position on whether city taxpayers would be on the hook for any cost overruns associated with the games. (They will be.) He also said he was turned off by "hyperbole" surrounding the games.

Mr. Lynch wrote: "As the mayor of Atlanta recently said, 'There is no downside to hosting the games.' Come now. There are lots of potential downsides, and if those downsides would've been openly acknowledged and discussed, a lot of people could've maybe been swayed to back the bid.

'They weren't.'"