America’s heartland discovers new buzz

Author: The Wire   Source: WPP

IN the first half of the twentieth century, Chicago and the Midwest was the centre of the US advertising industry, birthplace of Leo Burnett and Foote, Cone & Belding, and home to many of the greatest brands – the likes of Kellogg’s, Sears Roebuck, Pillsbury, the Jolly Green Giant and Palmolive soap. In recent decades New York has firmly re-claimed the mantle of advertising dominance, but the Midwest remains a powerful force in brand marketing, Chicago has a lively creative scene, and the region is home to some of the most innovative start-ups in the advertising and marketing services world.

Defined by the US Census Bureau, the Midwest comprises 12 states: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin. In business terms it is dominated by Chicago with other major cities including Detroit, Kansas City, Minneapolis, Columbus and Cincinnati.

It is well known that some of the region’s cities have been shrinking in recent decades, thanks to a decline in manufacturing – the emergence of the so-called ‘rust belt’ – which has hit the likes of Detroit and Cleveland. But the region’s pragmatic philosophy has led to a transformation with a new, dynamic service-oriented economy. Not for nothing is Chicago is known as “the city that works”.

Bill McCabe, CEO of Chicago-based Eicoff, says: “The economic viability and diversity of the Chicago and Midwest business community is often far greater than many people assume. While the city of Chicago and state of Illinois have had budget problems, the business community is booming.”

Illinois has 31 Fortune 500 companies, many of them in Chicago, including Boeing, State Farm, McDonald’s and Motorola. McCabe says the startup and tech communities are also flourishing, including Groupon, Morningstar and many others, as is the healthcare sector with companies like Abbott Labs and Blue Cross/Blue Shield.

Marty Stock, CEO of Y&R and Cavalry agencies in Chicago, says: “The Midwest surprises many visitors with its visual beauty from the soaring architecture of its cities to rolling plains and farmland stretching to the horizon. There remains a large number of clients located throughout the region and Midwestern agencies have created some of the most enduring, most successful work for clients in categories such as auto, consumer packaged goods, beer, insurance and airlines.”

Stock says: “Like many other areas, the Midwest is seeing a number of startups courtesy of the many people leaving larger corporate entities. The outlook for business is in line with the rest of the country as the frequency of client shifts translates into a consistent hum of new business opportunities.”

Danielle John, VP Brand at Blast Radius adds: “As a city, Chicago has emerged as one of the hottest tech and startup scenes in the country, which has resulted in amazing energy, influx of talent and agency activity.”

And Jon Cook, CEO of Kansas City-based VML says there is much to offer beyond Chicago: “VML believes the Midwest is an ideal place for a creative enterprise to be based. With a rich heritage of close collaboration, hard work and can-do spirit, the Midwest ethos resonates throughout our entire global network.” He adds: “The quality of life and ease of movement in the Midwest lends itself to creative freedom and reasonable work/life balance.

There’s a level of cooperation and respect alive in the Midwest that’s perhaps more difficult to find on the coasts.” With immense agricultural wealth, producing more than half the US’s cereals, and Chicago’s strength in financial services, the Midwest is destined to remain a highly important region in marketing terms, notably in categories as diverse as consumer packaged goods, insurance, transportation and technology. The challenge, increasingly, will be to translate that economic clout onto a global stage.