After 76 years in Chicago Leo Burnett finally takes on New York

You certainly can’t accuse Leo Burnett of rushing things, 76 years after setting up in Chicago the venerable agency, now owned by Publicis Groupe, is finally setting up in New York.

It’s in lots of other places too of course, as Publicis Groupe’s second-biggest agency after Publicis Worldwide with revenues of nearly $800m.

The agency, with just 20 or so people at present, is lodging in Manhattan’s Flatiron district while it prepares a much grander residence on Park Avenue. It will be led by former Burnett ECD in Sydney Jay Benjamin (pictured), who enjoys the title chief creative, and Tom Flanagan from Red Robot and Jumana Abu-Ghazaleh from BBH New York.

The main trigger, apart from a desire to be in US adland’s creative hub, seems to be a new global product launch assignment from Procter & Gamble.

Chief creative Benjamin told Ad Age: “The competition is fierce and we know that. At last check, there were close to 250 agencies that have over 100 employees in New York. But we’re not coming into this market as an unknown; we’re coming in as part of a push from our network, globally and nationally. The people we have brought here are literally the best in the world and they are accustomed to winning.”

And, indeed, Leo Burnett can make a credible case as the world’s best big agency network.

Founded in Chicago by Leo himself (a former journalist then copywriter and ad manager at Cadillac) in 1935 it is synonymous the great age of US advertising, inventing the jolly green giant, the Marlboro man, the Pillsbury doughboy and Tony the tiger for Kellogg’s Frosties.

It slipped from its perch a little after Leo Burnett died in 1971 but has revived mightily under Publicis Groupe ownership. It has even risen to number four in the Campaign/Nielsen rankings for UK agencies, its highest position for decades.

Does the move (it’s nowhere near the whole vast US agency of course) signal a threat to Chicago’s eminence as a US advertising centre?

It probably does a bit. New York has gained strength in recent years even as the US market has fragmented as Los Angeles has attracted more talent and hot creative shops like Wieden+Kennedy and Crispin Porter+Bogusky have emerged in the unlikely environs of Portalnd, Oregon, and Boulder, Colorado respectively.

But W+K has recently moved to bolster its New York office while Crispin Porter has strengthened its LA offering.

Even in the digital age it seems that you need to be where lots of other people are.

Or maybe agencies just can’t resist opening glossy new offices.

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.