New York, March 25, 2009 —- Brouillard Communications, a division of J. Walter Thompson, recently passed away. The firm was 36-years-old.
According to The Wall Street Journal, the agency's demise was '…the latest example of Madison Avenue downsizing.' No specific cause of death was listed, but I'd describe it as 'hardening of the arteries.'
Brouillard was created by Joe Brouillard and intended to be both a JWT conflict brand and a business-to-business communications specialist. And, at first it was just that.
In the first few decades, Brouillard soared. By the early 1990s, the firm was a well-respected, highly regarded integrated marketing agency that represented the likes of Morgan Stanley, Reuters, the American Gas Association and the New York Mercantile Exchange.
Brouillard charged top dollar and prided itself on representing premium brands with uber strategic programs.
By the time Ed and I joined Brouillard, though, the firm was already embarked on a slow, but steady, journey to oblivion. Joe Brouillard had retired and turned the reins over to, shall we say, a less than visionary successor.
I was hired in June, 1994, to be the CEO's successor. I was psyched. Brouillard was still a premium brand. It still represented blue chip clients and employed more than 100 employees.
But, my first week proved a rude awakening.
At our first official meeting, the CEO passed along the resumes of all 100 employees, telling me a few were worth keeping, most were marginal at best and, based upon a rapidly-declining client base, a third or more deserved to be fired ASAP. He laughed and said, 'But. That's your problem. Not mine.'
I'd signed on based upon the CEO's promise that he'd retire within six months. What I didn't know at the time was that I was the latest in a series of hand-picked successors. This CEO had no intention of going anywhere anytime soon and he did his best to ensure I wouldn't succeed.
I found out very quickly that Brouillard was frozen in time. The CEO had no intention of embracing the newly-emerging digital age. He called it 'a passing fad.' I also discovered that the culture was more akin to a gulag than a creative agency. Ed, who'd arrived a week before me, likened it to an 'insurance company.'
Fear was the watchword of the day at Brouillard. People worried about losing their jobs (and this was in a robust economy, mind you). New ideas were pilloried. Non-conformative thinking was derided. The CEO was intent on keeping the firm exactly the way Joe Brouillard initially created it, regardless of whether the world was passing it by.
I remember meeting with a copywriter who told me I'd just joined 'the agency that time forgot.'
I spent 15 months at Brouillard and died a thousand deaths at the hands of the CEO. But, my Brouillard failures fueled the successes of what was to become Peppercom. And, for that, I will be forever grateful.
I feel bad for the few, remaining employees of Brouillard and the now moribund vision of Joe Brouillard. But, the firm is yet another example of the fate that awaits any business that is unable or, in this case, unwilling, to change with the times.
Brouillard Communications. 1973-2009. R.I.P.
Thanks Flackman. One could argue that, although the firm just folded, it really died when the founder retired. Reminds me of the John Lennon quote. When asked about the death of Elvis Presley, he said, “Elvis died when he joined the Army.”
It’s what you get when you foster calcified thinking.