Large ad agencies hit bumps area agencies could benefit

April 13, 2009
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One of the most enduring advertising agencies in the industry ceased operations in Chicago earlier this month, bringing more consternation to the continuing shakeout of media and its support services, and casting a light on possible impact on West Michigan.

After 118 years of operation, JWT in Chicago closed its doors, leaving 50 remaining employees of the world’s largest advertising agency network facing possible termination. The Chicago outlet was severely hurt in 2007 with the loss of its largest and most important client, Kraft Foods. The Chicago office has since been operated out of New York. JWT’s Chicago set-up has long been known as a breeding ground for management and creative talent. Will some of those holding such abilities navigate to this side of the lake?

Suzy Sammons, the new director of client services for Hanon McKendry in Grand Rapids, has extensive big agency experience (Chicago, Detroit and Los Angeles) including with  TBWA\Chiat\Day, which quietly closed its Chicago and Atlanta field offices last month as a result of the downsizing of the Infiniti regional marketing business.

Sammons said the TBWA office opened in the early ’90s to serve the Nissan and Infiniti retail

marketing operations and had seen tremendous growth in those categories  throughout the years. With Nissan North America’s fiscal year ending March 31, the Infiniti budgets were consolidated, and two of the four field offices were closed.

“The advertising industry continues to reel from the declining economy. It's difficult to watch, particularly because any office closure has a profound impact on the lives of the employees involved,” Sammons told the Business Journal. “Ironically, Hanon McKendry has been growing over the past 18 months, and we're cautiously optimistic that our growth will continue. As we grow, we've found ourselves in the wonderful — if not unusual — position of looking for the right people to add to our team. We have a history of recruiting extraordinary talent from some of the world's best agencies. I expect that, in today's market, we'll be in an even stronger position to do just that.”

The frustration quotient

There wasn’t any dust or cobwebs on the envelope, but Lowell City Manager David Pasquale said he recently received a bill from the Michigan Department of Transportation for $21,000. That in itself isn’t terribly unusual considering the state’s current financial situation, except the invoice was for road work MDOT claimed it did in his city in 1997.

“It’s for information and frustration,” said Pasquale, who may have inadvertently given the state a new revenue source.

Hey, if Lansing charged a fee every time it frustrated a local public official, the state’s general fund would surely be showing a surplus.

A simple geography lesson

Speaking of public money, Frey Foundation President Milt Rowher shed some new light on the dispute over the distribution of federal stimulus funds between the east and best, er, west side of the state when he said, “Sometimes people on the southeast side think the west side is Novi.”

How true. But let’s give those southeasterners some credit for improving their map-reading skills. They used to think it was Dearborn.

Giving credit where it’s due

While the big banks continue to get bailouts, the area’s largest credit union continues its build-out. Full services at Lake Michigan Credit Union’s newest branch begin today, April 13. It’s at 487 S. Drake Road in Kalamazoo, the first for that market and likely the branch furthest from Lake Michigan.

“We are thrilled to be opening our doors to the Kalamazoo market. There is a growing demand for our traditional banking services as well as our mortgage, insurance and investment services,” said Julie Blitchok, senior vice president of operations and marketing for LMCU.

The credit union isn’t stopping with Kalamazoo, either. Blitchok said LCMU will be opening two more branch offices this year in Jenison and Allendale. When those two come online, LMCU will have 26 branches. Almost enough for a money tree.

Dollar days here again

There is a new $1 menu in town and it doesn’t have anything to do with chicken nuggets or side salads.

For a buck, Kent County bought a parcel for its new $12 million recycling center that will open next year in Grand Rapids at 977 Wealthy St. SW. “We’ve been working on this project for two years now,” said County Commissioner Art Tanis, who also chairs the county Public Works board. “I can’t wait for groundbreaking.” That should happen in June.

A buck is also what the city will pay the Downtown Development Authority for a “sliver” of property, as DDA Executive Director Jay Fowler put it. “It’s difficult to exactly tell what our interest is. It’s a very minor piece of property,” he said. The sliver is near the northwest corner of Ottawa Avenue and Fulton Street.

The city, in turn, will include that sliver in its sale of a surface parking lot adjacent to The BOB to the Gilmore Collection for its expansion of the downtown entertainment center. We don’t know the per-square-inch price the city is paying the DDA for the sliver. But we do know what the Gilmores are paying the city for the lot, and it’s way more than $1.

A buck here and a dollar there have given the Grand Rapids Griffins its best regular season attendance mark since the 2001 season ended. When the curtain came down on the hockey team’s $1 beer and $1 dog Friday nights last week, the Griffins had their sixth sellout and a total attendance figure of 297,905. (That’s paying customers, not the number of beers and dogs sold for a buck. That number is much higher, closer to bailout figures.) For the record, it’s the third straight season that attendance has increased; this year’s number marked an 8 percent hike over last year’s draw.

The taste of Lake Effect

“Michigan is in the midst of a difficult economic time. We think now is the time to promote Michigan businesses as much as possible,” said Donald Stolarz.

And what a promotion: He's going to sweeten the deal with a sip of very dry and unusual wine.

Stolarz, founder of Lake Effect Winery near Fruitport, plans to open a tasting room in May at the Chinook Pier shopping plaza in downtown Grand Haven, a mecca for tourists.

Tourists want something different, and they are likely to get it at the Lake Effect tasting room. Stolarz' winery, one of only two licensed wineries in Muskegon County, produces a wide variety of fruit and berry wines, exotic concoctions from just about everything except grapes. Lake Effect wines do not contain sulfites, which are used in many conventional wines as a preservative and to which some people are allergic.

Stolarz, a former millwright who is now part of a new economy in Michigan, focuses on "fruits that are high in antioxidants," he said, such as cherries, blueberries, apples, pears, raspberries, elderberries, black currants and aronia. Aronia is another name for the chokeberry, considered a high-octane antioxidant and an increasingly popular nutritional food crop in Europe.

The Lake Effect tasting room will offer bottles of wine for sale, plus other intriguing products from Michigan businesses such as cheeses, meats and breads.

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