Burnett Gets Ready to Turn Out the Lights

No, the Agency Isn't Shuttering (It's a Push for World Wildlife Fund)

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CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- Talk about logistical nightmares. Just getting print, online and multimedia aspects of a campaign in order can be a real headache. Try getting everyone in Chicago to turn out the lights for an hour.

Leo Burnett, Chicago, is coordinating an international effort known as Earth Hour 2008 to promote awareness of the World Wildlife Fund, a client. The agency is working with major cities to turn off all nonessential lights for an hour the evening of March 29. Chicago is the flagship participant in the U.S. The Second City, after all, has become nearly as well-known in recent years for its green rooftops as its political machine.

Global participation
"We should be proud to have one of the greenest mayors in the country," Tom Bernardin, CEO, Leo Burnett Worldwide, said, referring to Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley. During his announcement of the push today at a press conference, Mr. Bernardin said the city had been eager to get involved with the project the agency has been working on for the past year. Other participating cities include Bangkok, Copenhagen, Manila, Tel Aviv and Toronto. Each city will turn off the lights between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m. local time.

To date, Mr. Bernardin said $1 million in free media has been donated to promote the Chicago event. "People may ask if it's going to work, but at least we tried it," said Mr. Daley.

To coordinate the effort, Chicago Chief Environmental Officer Sadhu Johnston said weekly meetings and daily conference calls are taking place to get all parties prepared. The city, power company Commonwealth Edison, police and fire departments, emergency management, public schools, park district, AFL-CIO and the Building Owners and Managers Association of Chicago are all involved.

The Sears Tower and Hancock Building have signed on to participate, with more expected to join. Mr. Johnston said several city restaurants with impressive skyline views are considering participation so that guests can watch the legendary skyline fade to black. He declined to name them.

Hoping the lights come back on
But getting a good seat to watch the darkness may not be the biggest problem on the horizon. Fidel Marquez, VP-external affairs and large-customer services for ComEd, said the "real issue isn't getting the lights off, but making sure they come back on." Police and fire departments have been working closely with the fire department to make sure the transitions are managed safely.

Leo Burnett has done this before. Last year the agency coordinated lights off in Sydney. The event's success spurred them to think bigger. "When we did it in Sydney, it was such a galvanizing moment," said Rich Stoddart, president of Leo Burnett North America. "But it was an even bigger idea."

Since expanding the program, Mr. Stoddart said there has been a tidal wave of support. "People kept raising their hands, saying, 'Can I work on this?'" he said.
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