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Chicago is Built on Collaboration, Creativity and Courage

The city's advertising personalities describe Chi-Town's unique brand of creativity

Chicago is Built on Collaboration, Creativity and Courage

Chicago is not New York and it’s not LA. This shining Midwestern gem is its own distinct beast. The advertising companies based there have proven they can create world-class work and the output from the city is consistent and constant. Chicago fully deserves its unofficial title of America’s Third Coast. The fast-paced and gritty town is an advertising powerhouse teeming with creative talent.

What we discovered in Chicago was an ad industry community built on working together, creating fresh, dynamic, award-winning ads and forward-thinking work projects and philosophies. LBB's Jason Caines spoke to creatives at Leo Burnett, Framestore, FCB Chicago, R/GA, and Whitehouse to learn more. 

The advertising industry in Chicago is growing and fast. Matt Marcus, R/GA VP, ECD, has seen some serious growth there since he started seven years ago. He’s helped grow the office from three people when he started to approximately 75 today. “My role has transitioned many times from worker bee, to leader, and back to worker bee,” he says. “With each new phase of growth, everyone on the leadership team rolls up their sleeves to help get the agency over the next hurdle.”

But this growth has not only been aided by external forces. Chicago’s physical architecture has permeated the city’s work ethic. “I’ve always been inspired by Chicago’s Bauhaus history,” he says. “I studied at the Institute of Design (the New Bauhaus once it was forced out of Germany in the 1930s). The Mies and Mies-inspired buildings are delightful in their contrast to the Burnham era architecture. And, the design thinking that pervades the perspectives of the best Chicago creatives is a fresh take on collaboration and inclusion that I find missing from traditional agency creative legacies.”

Indeed, much of the agency’s recent work is far from traditional. On the subject of some of the best work R/GA have created in Chicago, Matt highlights their latest AI project, Rose.

Of late, their work for The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas is the most inspiring and successful. They’ve pioneered Branded Intelligence with the deployment of Rose, an on-premises chatbot. “Rose is a unique entity,” he says. With more than 1,000 responses and human takeover, she is designed to give every visitor at the resort a unique experience. She’ll book you a pool cabana, suggest restaurants and get you a table for two. She’ll get you towels, recommend a place to get a great cocktail and even take you on a tour of the hotel’s world-class art collection.

R/GA’s techie projects are about more than innovation for its own sake. They’re having success in generating more fame and profit for their clients, as Matt attests: "Beyond our outrageous satisfaction rates for those who use Rose, we’ve seen a 39% increase in on-premises spend for those who engage her versus those guests who do not. She’s a remarkably successful branded chatbot. She’s the evolution of the type of brand character originally pioneered by Leo Burnett in the heyday of TV. At R/GA we’ve adopted the approach and innovated the form for the intelligence age.” 

Matt isolates collaboration as one of the defining features of Chicago’s ad industry and he’s not alone in his views. 

Stephanie Dials, Strategy Director on Kellogg’s at Leo Burnett agrees. She puts it very succinctly: “As an advertising creative in Chicago collaboration and courage are vital characteristics to possess.”
She’s proud of the work that those characteristics have produced over the years. “I’m consistently impressed by the creative work that is sparked and brought to life by the people around me,” she says. “Most recently, the Art Institute of Chicago ‘VanGogh BNB’ work earned the Grand Prix for Creative Effectiveness at Cannes – and it is a genius example of marrying strong consumer insights with brilliant creative. Huge kudos to the team!”


Brian May, an editor at Whitehouse Post Chicago, originally started his career in LA in 2007 but eventually felt the pull of the Windy City. Some of the collaborations he’s been involved with have been so good, it’s hard for him to single any out. Eventually he settles on some work he did with director Matt Miller at Cap Gun Collective on a batch of comedy spots for Waste Management’s Bagster Bags. The spots featured some talented folk from The Second City, one of Chicago’s premiere comedy groups. “We ended up having too many edits to choose from because everything had us in stitches,” he says. “We had so many great takes and options to play with.“

Emily Smith, Senior Account Executive on the Samsung Mobile team at Leo Burnett, has a different perspective. She grew up in the Midwest, so Chicago always loomed large as the biggest city in the region. “Everyone’s genuinely eager to collaborate for the sake of creating the best work possible and there’s a certain team mentality that I find to be inspiring,” she says.

She worked on Samsung’s ‘The Ostrich’ from the very beginning. “After over a year in the making, and lots of hard work, it was gratifying to see the final output [come out] so well.”

In comparison to her work colleagues who have migrated from other cities and countries, Emily nails down what she feels makes the city’s creatives and consumers different to the rest of America.

“People in the Midwest are known for being genuine, salt-of-the earth people, which is great, and makes working here extremely enjoyable,” she says. But great advertising needs to be ambitious. “At the same time you need to know when it’s important to be strong and stand firm on your beliefs and even yourself. Today, there is no room for disingenuous work. Consumers are too smart. They can spot BS from a mile away. I also think it’s more crucial than ever to really understand the head and the heart of consumers to create memorable work. And today, that means connecting with consumers in unconventional ways.”

This connection with the consumers is what she and the rest of the staff there believe has made Leo Burnett the world-famous agency that it is known as today. 

She continues: “Leo Burnett lived that in his day and he built an agency around work that really connected with people. That started in Chicago with the Jolly Green Giant and Tony the Tiger, and it lives on today with work like ‘The Ostrich’ that just won great acclaim at Cannes. Great work happens in Chicago. Then and now.”

Although Emily might possess the humble attitude of a Midwesterner, there is no doubt that the city has been home to some world-beating work and innovative ideas. Perhaps this is why one of the most famous spots created by FCB came out of their Chicago office. It wasn’t just the ostrich that did Chicago proud on the Croisette last month. Speaking to FCB’s Creative Director team John Regan and Tor Lemhegvp about their agency's Teddy Bear Gun piece for Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence, they talk about not just how ‘great’ and successful the work was but how ‘important’ it was. 

In a world where gun control in America is a hot topic, the agency firmly planted its feet behind a significant and helpful campaign that aimed to make a stand against the cultural and social issue of gun crime in America. FCB is one of the leading examples of what an advertising agency can do to be courageous and it showed in that ad’s success in Cannes this year.  

This is the same for Matt Doll, Compositing Supervisor over at Framestore. When asked about inspiring work from the city he first turns to the forward-thinking, no-one-has-done-this kind of work like Gravity, Mars projects, and VR research.

In Chicago, thought-provoking ideas, compelling projects and a necessity to work together and innovate are the most important factors to those who work there. And if the city’s enduring success in advertising is anything to go by, they’re onto something here.