Even Tougher Times for Chicago Agencies

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JC Penney's decision to split with DDB, Chicago, after six years is the latest big blow in a brutal 12-month stretch for Windy City agencies.

The last year has seen more than $1.5 billion of ad billings shift out of Chicago: the U.S. Army and Cadillac left Leo Burnett; Miller Lite departed Young & Rubicam; and Hillshire Farms left Element 79.

And in addition to J.C. Penney, DDB this year has lost work for Home Depot and Dell Computer. It did reel in Safeway , but that's no panacea for the woes of the city's shops.

Veteran Chicago ad executives said the account losses were fueled at least in part by a faulty perception. "There's this image that we're much more conservative than we actually are,"said veteran Chicago creative Jim Schmidt of DDB's Downtown Partners.

Of course, Chicago is the second-largest advertising market, behind New York, and its shops still hold huge accounts, including Anheuser-Busch, McDonalds, Philip Morris and Wrigley.

But another blow could come this month when the new Draft-FCB Group announces its new management structure, which many observers expect to consolidate more power in New York and away from Chicago.

"I don't interpret this stuff as a blanket condemnation of the Chicago style of advertising, but if you look at the Army and Penney's and all of that, it's not good," said Jim Lecinski, a former DDB, Chicago, executive who now runs Google's Chicago office.
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