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JWT Chicago’s Rudderless Ship

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We were just watching Fringe, the paranormal themed TV show from JJ Abrams, when it occurred to us that JWT Chicago had been suffering under some strange circumstances for what – almost two years? The shop operates without an ECD or a CEO. The last executive creative director was the very British, Graham Woodall. He signed on sometime in June 2004. At the time, Woodall said he was “very excited” about his new position saying that JWT Chicago was “a little agency that has a big future.”

With the loss of a large part of the shop’s important Kraft Foods account in 2007, Woodall was booted out of Chitown and moved to New York. He recently helped launch a new fashion brand, wrote and recorded a rock album and developed an online dating business. Way to keep busy.

CEO Barry Krause also shipped Ros King, who had been president of the office since September 2005, back to London. Rosemarie Ryan and Ty Montague, JWT New York co-presidents, have held loosely onto the reins of the Chicago office ever since.

One has to wonder what made JWT Chicago think that bringing in some blood from London was a good idea in the first place. Yes, yes, sometimes it all works out when those wacky Brits bring their wry sense of humor, but um… If Kraft is keeping your office afloat and its an agency in the Midwest with a culture of its very own, does bringing in UK expats make any sense at all?

In fact, AdPulp editor David Burn recalls an ominous conversation about production companies with Woodall at his “Welcome To Chicago” party. Woodall said:

“I only work in New York or London, sometimes L.A.” I said we have wonderful editors here. He said something like “that’s interesting, but I have my favorites in New York” and walked away. I thought to myself, this guy is going to ruin JWT, as he is a self-absorbed clown.”

Looks like someone’s crystal ball was working just fine. Back when they lost the Kraft business, JWT Worldwide Chairman and Chief Executive Bob Jeffrey actually flew to Chicago and was quoted as saying:

“When I told people we were losing the Kraft business, I said we were committed to Chicago. So I felt I had to get there and tell the staff, No. 1, that we are committed to Chicago.”

Oh really? Committed? JWT used to be a beacon of light in Chicago. And now? Now it’s been without an ECD and a CEO for way too long. Their offices contain a bewildered, shrinking staff and kicked up shoes as staffers flee for the door. Consider the recent departure of Don Avila who was the director of JWTwo, the in-house editorial shop.

Meanwhile, the other Chicago shops are like rabid lions poaching business and destroying the weak link in the city’s pack. It’s sad.

Come on, JWT – what are you going to do? Shit or get off the pot. While other Chicago shops have been rebounding, JWT Chicago suffers in silence and its remaining staffers in a sterile purgatory. Can you imagine? JWT? Hello? Anyone?

More: JWT Houston Wants You (To Be A Simian)

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