Is there such a thing as a Chicago ad person?

Guest post time! Dan Gershenson, brand strategy guy and content marketing consultant, shares with us a very cool and unique perspective on Chicago ad people. He’s a nice guy and a smart guy. Excellent combination. Check out his site for more good stuff – and to learn about how his Brand Audits can help augment what you offer clients and prospects. Enjoy!

Lately when I’ve thought of what sort of people Advertising produces, for some reason my mind turns to clothing styles to spot this species in its native habitat. For example, you have the Creative Director, he of the thin glasses, goatee, jeans and blazer. Tends to refer to many things as “crap” and how we don’t do ads like we used to.

Kidding aside (kind of), I went below the surface and got to thinking a lot deeper in asking this question in relation to our environment: How deeply are Advertising people influenced by the city we inhabit and can the work we do be impacted as a result (good or bad)?

It’s an interesting theory. I suppose if cities took on the personas of, well, people, I think this is kind of what it might sound like if they got together for drinks to discuss this very thing. So New York, Miami, L.A. and San Francisco walk into a bar with Chicago in, well, Chicago.

New York: Hey, Chicago. Nice town ya got here. A little version of me.

Chicago: Easy there, NYC. We’ve got some things that top you too. You don’t want to start that pizza debate with me again.

Miami: Do they serve cosmopolitans at this place?

Chicago: No, Miami. They serve really great beer. It’s about time you learned what that tasted like.

New York: So you wanna talk shop here or what?

Chicago: Let’s do it.

L.A.: You know, Chicago, I just can’t figure you out.

Chicago: What do you mean?

L.A.: Well, what are you Advertising-wise? What kind of advertising people do you produce? Like, are you a creative town?

Chicago: Of course I am. Leo Burnett hung his hat here, after all.

San Fran: Yeah, it’s just hard to wrap our arms around you in a neat little succinct way. I mean, I’m a tech client haven in my corner of the map.

L.A.: I’m a whole lot of retail.

New York: You could say I’m the Granddaddy with still the most agencies anywhere so there’s always good stuff cookin’. So I never lack press coverage.

Chicago: Look, fellas. I know I’m kind of hard as an ad town to decipher sometimes. Yes, you guys get a lot of press and sometimes more than me. But if you really want to know what kind of ad people I produce, think about it this way. You can produce one of two kinds of people:

1)   The ones who complain or give up. They complain about how they don’t work on something cool. Or they just give up and use “Well, that’s the industry they’re in” as an excuse for doing shoddy work because that’s what they know the client will like. They’re safe. And boring.

2)   The ones who love being in a box and actually crave the challenge of producing something awesome when given boundaries. An ad in a trade publication? No problem. A financial client that’s full of restrictions? Bring it. Insurance? Let’s do this.

You know what? Sometimes I produce people who fall into Category #1. But I believe at my very best, I produce even more of Category #2 – Chicago produces some of the toughest Ad people around. We’re tough because we have to be.

New York: Get outta here. Tougher than New York? Ya gotta be kidding.

Chicago: Think about it, NYC. Stay with me on this. We’ve got some industries here that don’t always fit into high glamour. Like CPG. Pharma. Manufacturing. Health Care. These are not industries that are known for being particularly…well…

Miami: Sexy?

Chicago: Sure, Miami. Sexy. They can be more regimented and speak their own language. But nonetheless, they’re awfully important to the American economy, right? Somebody’s got to serve them – and in reality, not just serve them but do great work.

Miami: He’s got a point.

Chicago: It’s just that some people see great work defined by whether it gets a Gold Lions at Cannes or a Clio. No doubt that’s very creative, but I don’t believe it’s the only way you define great work.

San Francisco: Surely you’re not suggesting creativity doesn’t matter.

Chicago: Oh, hell no. If you’re not trying to be creative, you should pack it in and go do something else. What I’m saying is we need to have many different measurements of creativity beyond the “who has the most awards” measurement.

Let me give you an example. I think as a town, I’m as good as anyone when it comes to doing work within a very challenged space. For example, let’s take an industrial client needing a campaign within a trade publication. Not everyone in the world is going to see that campaign, so it doesn’t answer to cute cocktail party question, “Have I seen your work recently?”

Yet there’s a huge opportunity to stand out within the publication.

Why? Because, let’s face it – a lot of the stuff in that pub is going to dry, ordinary and matter-of-fact. Which means all the more of a chance to do some really great brand development.

Some might turn their nose up at that and think they’re above that kind of work. But in Chicago, we don’t do that. And we don’t want to be seen as that.

San Francisco: But doesn’t it frustrate you knowing that some of the industries you mentioned aren’t necessarily in a rush to embrace new directions like social media wholeheartedly?

Chicago: Sure. But they’ll get there. Some industries are slower moving than others, but as a city, I’m producing people who are gently shepherding them into it. And trust me, they’ll get there out of necessity. Take manufacturing, for example. You have some people questioning the viability of social media in upper management, but that’s not necessarily the feeling of those coming up through the ranks. They’re comfortable with these tools. So change is coming in these industries too, even if it’s a bit slower pace.

Again, we can be an “aw shucks, that’s the industry we’re dealing with” kind of town or we can seize the challenge and lead them into technologies that make sense. We can do great work in any category and we’re tough enough to do great stuff anytime.

New York: You know, Chicago, when you put it that way, I’ve got a new respect for the kind of Ad people you produce.

Chicago: Thanks, NYC. Bottom line – if you want to know what makes this town tick, it’s our ability to turn the traditionally “unglamorous” into the appealing and captivating. We’ve got the thicker skin for that kind of challenge.

Or maybe it’s due to the windchill temperatures. Probably a little of both.

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What do you guys think? Is there a Chicago kind of ad person? Can the city influence the ad people working in it? Let’s hear from you. And also, do yourself a favor and explore Dan’s blog, Chicagobrander.com.

Comments

  1. I’ve worked in all those cities and there are differences. I grew up in the Midwest and pooh-poohed the idea of working in Chicago. Went straight to NY after college then San Fran and Seattle. Finally worked in Chicago well into my career and was so pleasantly surprised by the smart people there; plenty of talent without a lot of attitude. (That whole City of Big Shoulders stuff is true.) Wish I had gone there sooner in my career and stayed longer. Happy now to be in LA which is yet another story. The business is pretty much the same everywhere but the people are what make things different. Enjoyed your post. Thanks.

  2. Steve Congdon says:

    Dan, good hearing from you. Thanks for the comment.

    When you bring up Seattle, I think about other cities like Minneapolis, Indianapolis, Raleigh and others that might also might infuse their personalities into their agencies.

    And great point about attitude! While there are nice folks everywhere, I would love to hear a search consultant perspective on the idea Dan is writing about.

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