Paul Gunning


President/CEO, DDB Chicago

Step off the elevator on the 40th floor of the Aon Center and you’ll see part of the creative team at DDB Chicago working on the next attention-grabbing slogan or print ad for a variety of clients, including McDonald’s, Skittles, The Field Museum and Morton Salt. The innovative space is unique, featuring a row of punching bags, a life-size cow statue and the ‘awards closet,’ where literally hundreds of trophies and plaques are spilling out onto the floor.

At the helm of DDB Chicago is Paul Gunning, 44, who’s been with the company since 2000 and was named president/CEO July 2013. An Ohioan by birth and Chicagoan since 1992, Mr. Gunning says there’s no better place for an advertising agency than the Midwest. “We’re in the best position – in the middle of America – for the biggest American brands to sell to the majority of people that live in this country – between the coasts,” he explains, noting that, clearly, women have a strong influence in ad campaigns on both the consumer and creative sides. “Women make the purchasing decisions and set the direction for a lot of households. For us to understand their needs, we need a large representation of women in all ranks of our company…in all departments.”

When it comes to ad campaigns, Mr. Gunning says the most challenging aspect of developing the creative isn’t coming up with an idea. For example, the firm developed an ad for Skittles during football season. “With the Seattle Seahawks having the potential to make the Super Bowl [which they did], there was a natural tie in with the fact that the fans throw Skittles at Marshawn Lynch when he scores,” explains Mr. Gunning. “It’s not hard to put two and two together. not very hard to put 2 and 2 together at that point. So if they’re going to make the Super Bowl we thought we’d do something special and ran some really fun print in the Seattle region. We also had a version of it ready to go if Seattle was to win, which they did. We always try and find ways to make the ads relevant and relatable because events like the Super Bowl are a massive stage. And if you can be there in a big way, it’s some of the most exciting advertising there can be.”

So what’s the hard part in advertising? It’s stretching the finished product across multiple mediums. “Radio, print and TV are easy,” he affirms. “But when you get into digital out-of-home [like kiosks, jumbotrons, jukeboxes, et cetera], those media placements really challenge the team. But, it’s where they have the most fun. In terms of running an agency, finding a way to produce that content efficiently for clients is the real hard part.”

You also have to think about the pitch, and to that end Mr. Gunning says, “Any salesman will tell you it’s a lot easier to sell a product when you really believe in it. So, if we have passion for the brand, it’s not hard to work extra hours. And it’s not hard to stand up in front of those clients and really sell hard and show that enthusiasm. Show there’s passion involved. Show your passion and you’ll probably be successful more times than not.”

It’s also all about presentation, with Mr. Gunning emphasizing that “fashion and style are the very heart of a brand. That’s why we’re so meticulous about how we craft the images around a brand, right down to the style and color of the font. Some of the slightest art direction changes can help make a brand that much more successful. And we take pride in that.”

Up next for DDB Chicago – Mr. Gunning plans to make the company the biggest advertising agency in the U.S. “We’re not looking for brands that just want to advertise to people on the coasts,” he says. “We want brands that advertise to the majority of Americans – and that population tends to live in Middle America. We want the moms in Omaha, the single women Denver and so on. We want to understand them the most and do the best advertising for them.”

FUN FACT! Margaret Hamilton, aka The Wicked Witch of the West from the 1939 classic film The Wizard of Oz, is Mr. Gunning’s great aunt.


About Carrie Williams

Carrie Williams is TCW's managing/digital editor. She manages day-to-day editorial operations of the monthly print publication, website and social media outlets, contributes to a variety of feature articles and directs a team of interns, freelance writers and bloggers. In early 2013, she led the redesign of of TCW's brand strategy. Her blog, "Carrie On," is a blog of reflection and discovery, discussing how to push through life when you’re handed one too many curveballs. And finally, Ms. Williams is also executive director of the TCW Foundation, a 501(c)(3) non-profit supporting underfunded women's and children's organizations.