Leo Burnett Takes Manhattan

Under Leadership of Jay Benjamin, Storied Chicago Agency Opens Front in New York

By Published on .

The agency that famously opened its doors with an overflowing bowl of apples at the reception desk is now setting up shop in the Big Apple.

In what Publicis Groupe 's Leo Burnett is billing as a move to attract talent to the agency network's U.S. operation, it is turning to New York to create a hub for it, which -- with $777 million in revenue worldwide, according to Ad Age 's Datacenter -- is Publicis Groupe 's second-biggest network. While the agency has had staff based in the city for specific clients, such as Samsung, Burnett says this push is its first attempt to "build a new offering under the Leo Burnett banner from the ground up."

The office is located in Manhattan's Flatiron district, and is helmed creatively by former Leo Burnett Sydney Executive Creative Director Jay Benjamin. It opens its doors with 15 full-time staffers who are working with consumer-packaged-goods giant Procter & Gamble on a global product launch, and the office is already pitching accounts in other categories.

Opening a new shop in the most competitive ad market in the world requires nerves of steel. A brief look back into the annals of ad history reveals failed attempts to make it in New York by the likes of sibling shop Fallon , and other more recent closures of much-hailed shops, such as Cliff Freeman & Partners and Toy.

Yet Mr. Benjamin said he's not daunted: "The competition is fierce and we know that . At last check, there were close to 250 agencies that have over 100 employees in New York. But we're not coming into this market as an unknown; we're coming in as part of a push from our network, globally and nationally. The people we have brought here are literally the best in the world and they are accustomed to winning."

Mr. Benjamin's new title is chief creative of Leo Burnett, New York, and his cohorts on the management team are Tom Flanagan, who serves as managing director and who previously launched entertainment-marketing firm Red Robot, and Jumana Abu-Ghazaleh, director-strategy, who was most recently at Bartle Bogle Hegarty, New York.

In addition to its work for P&G, which the agency declined to go into details about, it has launched a new-media platform called "New York Writes Itself" for which it has hired some 50 scribes from theater and art schools to record the sounds and sights of New York to use as inspiration for creating pieces of content. "The way we wanted to come into this market is to listen to the people of New York because we want to be here for a long time," Mr. Benjamin said. "Our hope is it attracts brands to the platform."

Indeed, Publicis is making a long-term bet on Leo's New York foray. According to Ad Age sibling Crain's New York Business, Leo Burnett has signed a six-year lease for more than 25,000 square feet on Park Avenue, which it has been hand-painting and decorating with quirky artwork to give the office an aesthetic that sets it apart from other offices in the network.

The desire to open in New York has been driven in part by Susan Credle, chief creative officer, Leo Burnett USA, a longtime New Yorker who spent more than two decades at BBDO.

"If the creative product we make defines us as an agency, then we have to have more than our fair share of the best talent in the business," she said. "New York City has always been a magnet for creatively driven people. By extending our brand to NYC, we create more opportunity for talented people to work on iconic brands that extend across the globe."

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