Midway through an important meeting before the launch of a big campaign, Allstate Senior VP-Marketing Lisa Cochrane turned to the dozen or so people in the room and asked, "Does everybody here besides me know 'Safety Dance'?"
Her creative agency, Leo Burnett, had just shown her an ad featuring the hit song from the '80s. But it was foreign to Ms. Cochrane, and she wondered if viewers would be just as lost. A collection of media-buying and creative professionals from Allstate, Leo Burnett and media agency Starcom sat around a conference table littered with boxed lunches, coffee cups and soda cans. After a brief silence, her colleagues began to tease her. Of course they knew "Safety Dance." Who doesn't?
"It has 8 million views, by the way," said Charley Wickman, Leo Burnett's executive creative director, pulling up the video on YouTube.
Ms. Cochrane had her answer. The meeting moved on, with more banter, straight talk and enough laughs to liven up a tedious review of the final details of ads set to launch in days for a new claims offering.
When you've worked together for 54 years, as Burnett and Allstate have, this is how things go. There are no pretenses and no political speak. Most of all, no one thinks a misstep here or there will lead to a divorce -- a common fear in adland, where client-agency relationships are measured in months rather than years.
So how have they done it, and what lessons does their partnership hold for others? To get some insights, Ad Age sat in on a late-December meeting and interviewed key members of the Burnett-Allstate team. Here is what we found:
The Burnett-Allstate people get along, maybe because they spend so much time together. Team members meet every Thursday, usually in a conference room at the insurer's massive headquarters in suburban Chicago. Burnett, which is based downtown, has its own room on the site.
Ms. Cochrane sits in a large cubicle, not a separate office, to better facilitate constant interaction. "I would say probably 24 hours a week, I am with Burnett people in some way, shape or form," she said.
The practice became ingrained early in her advertising career, when Ms. Cochrane was at Ogilvy & Mather and assigned to the Sears account. At least twice a week she worked from an office on the 73rd floor of the Sears Tower, even though her agency was a short cab ride away.
"The client wanted me there with them," she said. "It was hard, but it was great for me and it was great for them. And that 's kind of how I believe in working."
There was no question about who was running the meeting last month. Between sips of soup, Ms. Cochrane fired questions as the team went over radio, digital and TV ads for the "claims satisfaction guarantee" program, which promises compensation to customers unhappy with the service they get.