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[chicago] Print ads lined one wall in the spacious conference room. A video projection screen displayed commercials from all over the world. The U-shaped table was filled with top creative directors, their wireless scoring handsets at the ready.

On came a spot from Beirut, of all places, in which a man and woman repeatedly slapped each other. A mutter went through the jury of two dozen, and then the scores were tallied. This one didn't make the short list.

It could have been the Palais de Festival, site of the Cannes International Advertising Festival judging. But the view of the Wrigley Building through the window gave it away-this was a Leo Burnett Co. Global Product Committee meeting, presided over by Worldwide Creative Director Michael Conrad and Paul Kemp Robertson, Burnett's youthful director of creative resources.


The committee is made up of a core group of top Burnett creative directors, account managers and managing directors from the U.S. and abroad. It meets four times a year, with the panel usually augmented by a rotating group of managing directors and creative directors from different parts of the world.

Much like Cannes, the committee is no boondoggle-the meetings often span four or five days, and the work critiqued is broken down by region and multinational client. It's a rigorous process that generates a fair amount of debate.

"It's ruthless but fair," said Linda Locke, Burnett's regional creative director for Asia/Pacific, a committee first-timer. "This sort of thing is enormously helpful."

The group doesn't spare its comments. Work from the Johannesburg office on a particular client was deemed not up to par with what was done the year before. Heads nodded, notes were taken and the office would soon be getting a little constructive feedback.

The Beirut face-smackin' spot triggered a spirited debate about cultural diversity and taste, and how they affect advertising. As international as this group was, it struggled to hold ads to a global standard without minimizing the cultural influences behind it.

At the heart of the process is the concept of a 7+; work that scores 7 or above out of a possible 10 is included in the quarterly reel and sent to all offices in the network.


Donald Gunn, Mr. Robertson's predecessor who helped establish the global review system in the 1980s and is now president of the Cannes festival, pointed out that the 7+ measure, which he credited to Mr. Conrad, has become the benchmark in Burnett.

Local offices have to include a target for 7+ work when doing their annual projections for revenue and profit. The agency tracks how each 7+ ad performs in awards shows.

"It's part of the glue that keeps [the agency] feeling like part of the network," Mr. Gunn said, who denied that Burnett's considerable financial investment in conducting Global Product Committee meetings and administering the Creative Resource Exchange department had anything to do with the agency's being privately held and less accountable to shareholders and analysts.

Rather, he said, this "endorses and dramatizes the fact that Leo Burnett cares hugely about creative standards around the world."


Mr. Gunn pointed out that the committee's work might crash to a halt without Rosalie Geier.

As senior coordinator for the Creative Resource Exchange department, which collects Burnett-made ads, Ms. Geier quietly and efficiently has made each session run the past 10 years. For each three-month cycle, she has assembled all the work that the committee reviews, a mammoth undertaking that by now must number in the thousands of ads.

And while Messrs. Conrad, Gunn and Kemp Robertson have become Cannes regulars, Ms. Geier hasn't made it past the Merchandise Mart. But the next committee meeting will be held in London-the first not to take place in Chicago-and she will be at the controls.

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