The death of noted Chicago ad columnist George Lazarus is being mourned by the city's marketing community, which is also voicing concerns about the future of the Chicago Tribune's popular daily column.
"He raised the profile of Chicago's marketing community to national and international levels," said Keith Reinhard, chairman-CEO of DDB Worldwide, New York. "George Lazarus mattered to us."
"We're still recovering from the shock of what's happening," said James O'Shea, deputy managing editor-news at the Tribune. "Then we'll begin figuring out what to do" about the column.
Dozens of advertising and marketing executives were among the 150 mourners who paid tribute to the irascible reporter at a memorial service last week at Northwestern University's Alice Millar Chapel. Mr. Lazarus, 68, died Sept. 8 while commuting to work.
"When George left us . . . the advertising industry lost not only a great friend, but a man who combined a rare understanding of our business with a savage appetite for a story and a much-heralded, uncanny ability to sniff one out," said Mr. Reinhard, one of five eulogists at the service. He described Mr. Lazarus' gruff reporting style as part Columbo, part rottweiler.
"He's left a void both personally and professionally," said Tonise Paul, president-CEO of BBDO, Chicago, who cut short a business trip to Italy to return for the memorial. "The industry has been trained over 30 years to look at his column as a source. How to replace that will be next to impossible."
Whether and how the newspaper replaces the 28-year-old column is the next question.
"The Tribune has become so known for having such a column it would create a heck of a vacuum for not having one," said Barry Krause, chairman-CEO of Publicis in Mid America, Chicago.
Mr. O'Shea noted that, "George created for the Tribune a column with a following and a dedicated audience for his reporting, and we'd like to continue that not only as a fitting memory for him but also to his readership over the years. George always moved full speed ahead, and I'm sure he'd be bugging me to get moving."
Managers at the paper are said to have held preliminary discussions about the fate of the column, but have apparently decided to wait a week or so before taking further steps. The final decision will be up to Executive Editor Ann Marie Lipinski, said Editor Howard Tyner, who is taking a new role as senior VP-Tribune Publishing.
The most likely successor is the paper's media columnist, Jim Kirk, who covered the Chicago ad industry for Adweek and the Chicago Sun-Times. "George always said, 'If anyone was to ever take my column, I'd want it to be Jim,' " said one agency executive.
But, said Mr. Kirk, "If anyone is discussing that, it hasn't been with me." He added that it was "a little early" to discuss such a move.
But the rival Sun-Times is already beefing up its coverage of the local ad industry under a plan Business Editor Dan Miller said was developed months ago. Financial reporter Jessica Madore Fitch will begin writing an ad column in late October that will appear several times each week.
Whatever the Tribune decides, "Laz" will be a tough act to follow.
"You don't find another Mike Royko, you don't find another Jeff MacNelly and you don't find another George Lazarus," Mr. Tyner said. "We need to evaluate how we're going to fill that hole knowing that whoever it is or however we do it, it will be a work in progress for a number of years."
"A legend is a legend. I don't think anybody's going to be able to replace him" said Eric Harkna, senior VP, BBDO Worldwide Chicago.
Copyright September 2000, Crain Communications Inc.