Editorial: Burnett retools its Leo legacy

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Remaking an agency culture is not a simple task-particularly for Leo Burnett Worldwide, an agency so steeped in tradition that new employees are welcomed with a 1967 video of the late Leo Burnett and given the standard-issue thick, black pencils he favored. To be sure, Burnett has come a long way, beginning with its merger into Bcom3 Group and that holding company's decision to merge with Publicis Groupe. Now that it is destined to be part of one of the Big 4 holding companies, the challenge for Leo Burnett Worldwide President Bob Brennan is to make sure he isn't just apple-polishing when he claims his agency's focus is on getting better-not bigger.

"Last year was a battle for our culture, our soul," Mr. Brennan said. "We stopped fighting about the work." It was a candid admission from an agency that had a rich creative legacy but had lost its way.

Today, there's no doubt the work is again a priority. Burnett has stepped up on the creative front, most recently hiring the impressive talent behind campaigns such as the Cannes Grand Prix-winning "Tag" for Nike and Gold Lion winner Fox Sports. Perhaps more importantly, Burnett is doing work that works, picking up a dozen ad-effectiveness awards in June.

Its shakeup has also extended to another agency tradition-its once-sacrosanct holiday bonus-by tying it more closely to performance. "People had gotten used to being rewarded for their tenure," said Cheryl Berman, Burnett USA chairman-chief creative officer, "rather than for making the client No. 1, as Leo used to say."

Non-believers may find the statement ironic, considering that four top Bcom3 executives will pocket $300 million in cash and securities after its sale to Publicis. Keeping the client in the forefront becomes tougher when there are shareholders and financial targets to satisfy. But Burnett certainly looks to be taking the right steps to put the focus back where it should be-on the business.

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