Mckinney & Silver Taps David Baldwin To Find A New Way
The similarities between Leonard/Monahan, the smallish shop where David Baldwin last worked, and the larger McKinney & Silver, where he has served as executive creative director since January, are few and far between. But one thing felt familiar as Baldwin traveled to Raleigh, N.C., to start his new job.
“I replaced a legend for the second time in my career,” he says, amused by the coincidence. “At Leonard/Monahan, I came in after David Lubars [now at Fallon McElligott]. And here, I did it again–I replaced Pat Burnham.”
While Burnham, the Fallon McElligott veteran who served as McKinney’s creative director for the past two years, might have the bigger industry reputation, Baldwin says he relishes building his own reputation at McKinney. “I’ve always admired this agency, and it’s a dream for me to helm a shop like this,” says Baldwin, citing McKinney’s client roster, a list that “most agencies would die for.”
This time around, his employer is a 30-year-old, $250 million company. Baldwin’s task? To rev things up, add gloss to the agency and introduce the “new” McKinney to the ad world. As executive creative director, Baldwin oversees work for clients such as Royal Caribbean, Ben & Jerry’s and Fieldcrest Cannon. His touch, however, has been most obvious on the flashy Audi of America TV campaign, which broke last month.
The five spots, the first complete campaign overseen by Baldwin, feature a combination of stirring music (like Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” or smooth jazz) and stylish film that showcases the automaker’s renewed product line. In one ad, an Audi A6 is reflected off the side of a glass building, a compact disc and a pair of eyeglasses–but the reflections are all vintage Audis. Baldwin has also lent his characteristic wit to a print campaign for Eastwood’s Pale Rider Ale, produced for actor Clint Eastwood by Celis Brewery in Austin, Texas. “You didn’t expect Clint Eastwood to make a salad dressing, did you?” one headline quips. Another says the beer cap is a twist-off, “just like some punk’s head.”
“I think he’s done an awful lot in the short time that he’s been here,” says Ken Moriarty, marketing director for Audi, who adds that Baldwin “brings a fresh and exciting perspective to the Audi account.”
Aside from the chance to work for high-profile clients, part of the allure for Baldwin, he says, was the shop’s location (far from Madison Avenue), size (120 employees) and the opportunity to step in and define the agency environment. He has faced this scenario before, both at Leonard/ Monahan in Providence, R.I., where he worked three years as creative director on Polaroid business imaging, ABC Sports and Garelick Farms, and at Cole & Weber in Portland, Ore., where he worked as senior copywriter on Dr. Martens shoes.
Although McKinney attracted national attention in the ’80s with award-winning print work for North Carolina Tourism, among others, the agency’s new-business performance had leveled off in recent years, along with its creative reputation. Despite national account wins (Royal Caribbean in 1992, Audi in 1993), the agency has struggled to get to the next level.
“The last few years [were] a little quiet, and our work wasn’t as apparent,” admits McKinney CEO Ken Maurer. “But we’re trying to evolve and grow and take the next step. So far, David has had a great effect on that.” Indeed, the agency has won its last three pitches: the $30 million Aetna/U.S. Healthcare, $1.5 million Carrabba’s Italian Grill and $4 million DiSaronno Amaretto accounts.
To institute change, Baldwin and Maurer devised a new mantra for the agency, “Igniting brands through powerful ideas,” and a new way of working with clients. Baldwin engages clients in the creative process from day one. “David’s not afraid to bring us in early, and that’s something we like a lot,” says Audi’s Moriarty. “We believe that’s why we’ve come out with a 1999 campaign that’s [exactly] where we want to be.”
When he first joined the agency, Baldwin says his leadership was put to the test, as old employees feared he would clean out the creative department to make way for his cronies.
That didn’t happen. Several employees left of their own volition, and several more were brought on board by Baldwin, but the new creatives were largely additions to the staff, not replacements. With the exception of the former Leonard/ Monahan team of Andy Carrigan and Ralph Watson, the remaining talent–including art directors Mark Oakley (from BBDO) and Amee Shah (Ammirati Puris Lintas) and copywriters Chris Wilson (Martin/Williams) and Jean Rhode (Leagas Delaney)–was new to Baldwin.
“There’s always a level of mistrust when people don’t know you,” Baldwin reflects, “but I think I’ve established that I’m about doing good work here.” Baldwin’s lack of ego makes him an approachable figure, adds Maurer. “His leadership has been felt not only in the creative department but across the agency,” he says.
For his part, Baldwin is honing his leadership skills by thinking of things he despises. “It’s true,” he insists. “I’ll ask myself, what did I hate that [bosses] did to me? And then,” he concludes, “I’ll do something else.”
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