BURNETT - AND ENDURING CULTURE; AT THE 60-YEAR MARK, THE AGENCY STILL HEWS TO THE ROCK-SOLID VALUES AND PRINCIPLES OF ITS FOUNDER (PART 4/5)
Leo Burnett may have been a writer and staked his company's reputation on creative product, but his top management was to be developed mostly from the ranks of account service. The creative department enjoyed prestige and prosperity, but not power. It wasn't that Leo distrusted creatives, but he saw them as non-conformists, indifferent to details. Above all, he recognized their reluctance to surrender their identity to the larger culture. He preferred to keep them creating.
The CRC meeting was central to the agency's style. "We have absolutely no pride of authorship here," Leo had told Advertising Age as far back as 1950. "Nobody knows for sure who produced which of our ads."
In his speeches he questioned the notion that only the individual, never the group, can create. "Too many young writers are more concerned with keeping their identity," he warned. He had faith in creative teamwork; individuality smacked of the prima donna.
In February 1967, Leo transferred all his voting stock to a charitable foundation, and on July 1, at 75, he stepped down as CEO. Philip Schaff was named chairman and Leo became "founder chairman." Billings were now nearing $250 million.
It was a period of transition, not all of it smooth. Leo had effectively passed his company and its ideology into the hands of a committed management. But there would soon be restlessness among the creatives. Don Tennant had been groomed for a top creative job since he came to the agency in 1950 from ABC. In 1962, he replaced Draper Daniels and finally in 1966 became CRC chairman, replacing Leo himself. He organized the department into four groups under John Matthews, Bob Evans, Cleo Hovel and Bob Ross, all of whom left the agency by 1969 over differences in "total ad-making philosophy."
On June 7, 1971, Leo Burnett died at 79. Many felt that after his death, there was creative drift.
"I felt there was a dearth of big ideas," said ex-Burnetter Hooper White, adding that his was "an opinion shared by others." Even Norm Muse, who would later take over creative and eventually become chairman, saw a sterility and "a distance between the advertiser and the consumer."
Yet, billings soared. By 1980, Burnett crossed the $1 billion mark. One reason was Phil Schaff's decision to go global in the '60s, a move Leo had little enthusiasm for. Gordon Roth-rock implemented what Mr. Schaff decreed.
"We knew other agencies were building international networks to keep clients with worldwide operations from going to other shops. We didn't have to be hit over the head to know this was going to grow," he said.
It began in London with the purchase in April 1962 of Legett, Nicholson & Partners, whose principal clients promptly went to other shops when the name changed to Burnett-Nicholson. And except for United Airlines and Green Giant, none of Burnett's domestic clients came storming the doors.
After a few years, Mr. Schaff began looking for a more fruitful purchase opportunity, and he found it in the London Press Exchange, an old London agency with overseas offices. The acquisition was sealed in May 1969, Burnett-Nicholson was merged with LPE and Burnett found itself a global player.
"To keep control of the creative," Mr. Rothrock said, "we would bring people to Chicago and assign senior Chicago people to the branches, including Andy Armstrong, who came out of retirement. Bob Noel would go all over giving seminars. We colonized the world by osmosis through Bob's seminars."
Using LPE as a base, Burnett began filling in the holes with acquisitions in Bogota, Puerto Rico, Brazil and Argentina. Burnett bought the Jackson-Wain agency in Sydney and in one sweep became a presence in Hong Kong, Bangkok, Singapore and Tokyo. Other buys put they agency in Rhodesia, South Africa and Malawi.
One of the problems of operating globally is currency fluctuations. "I devised two sets of books," Mr. Roth-rock said. "We had blue sheets for the U.S. dollar, which told Chicago how we were doing, and gray sheets for the local currency, which told us how we were doing competitively in the local market."
In the '70s and '80s, overseas business from Burnett's domestic clients began coming in. In 1981, with 36 overseas branches running by the agency's 46th birthday, Chairman Jack Kopp split the international and domestic divisions into autonomous entities, each with its own chief executive. At the time, international was contributing a fraction of worldwide billings; today, with 64 offices, it leads domestic billing by $200 million.