BURNETT SET TO REVEAL STRATEGY TO EMPLOYEES

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Leo Burnett Co. has called a companywide meeting for next week to reveal to its 2,000 employees plans to jump-start the giant agency and lift sagging morale.

Top Burnett management is expected to use the meeting-believed to be scheduled for Sept. 15 at the Chicago Theater-to announce initiatives to strengthen the agency following the defections of several blue-chip clients over the past 12 months.

LAYOFFS EXPECTED

Burnett insiders expect the meeting to be preceded by layoffs related to this summer's loss of lead-agency status on the McDonald's Corp. account to DDB Needham Worldwide.

Richard Fizdale, Burnett chairman-CEO, is said to have withdrawn from day-to-day management in recent weeks to concentrate on his plan for the future direction of the agency, leaving daily operations to President James Oates and North American Group President Linda Wolf.

A Burnett spokesman said he would not discuss internal communications with employees, declining to confirm the date or agenda for the meeting.

The agency community has been rife with speculation about Burnett's plans, with theories ranging from an overhaul of top management to the spinoff of functions such as media and direct marketing into independent units similar to interactive subsidiary Giant Step.

Agency officials had hinted that they plan to ease bureaucratic burdens on the creative department-including making creative review committees optional-and to forge additional partnerships similar to the healthcare ad partnership Burnett created with medical agency Williams-Labadie earlier this year.

In addition to losing lead-status on McDonald's, Burnett has had to cope in the past year with the losses of United Airlines and the creative assignment for Miller Lite.

NEED FOR AGENCY TO CHANGE

A number of Burnett insiders and outside observers have said those losses underscore the need for the agency to change along with the ad industry.

Burnett's strategy of "providing the kind of marketing for clients that they could put it on autopilot" is not as desirable today, when many advertisers prefer to pick and choose capabilities, said Jeffrey Hicks, president of Crispin Porter & Bogusky, Miami, and a former Burnett staffer.

Contributing: Judann Pollack

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