The Way McKinney Was, Will Be

In Retrospect, an Award-Winning Agency’s Evolution Continues
ATLANTA–Honoring one of the first agencies to prove it could prosper beyond Madison Avenue, The One Club in New York is staging a monthlong exhibit of McKinney & Silver’s best work on the occasion of the shop’s 30th anniversary.
Opening Wednesday and on display through March 16, “The Second Revolution” will present more than 200 McKinney ads for clients ranging from Piedmont Airlines in the 1980s to Aetna Health Care and Audi today.
“The One Club chose not merely to honor a 30th anniversary, but 30 years of work that has been nationally recognized,” said Mary Warlick, executive director of The One Club.
Founder Charles “Chick” McKinney set out to build an agency that could compete with New York shops. Based in Raleigh, N.C., his smart, buttoned-down Southern company proved to be one of the most effective print agencies, winning a host of awards and, more importantly, big billings from major clients across the U.S.
“It was a hell of a ride,” said Howard Rockett, now 62, who was a principal at the agency during its mid-’70s to early-’80s heyday. “It was magnetic, electric, an environment of continuous shared excitement . . . driven by an intuitive knowledge that we were doing something that no one else was doing.”
“We’re still doing something that no one else is doing,” said Don Maurer, 45, the current president and chief executive officer, as well as Southeast regional executive of San Francisco parent USWeb/CKS.
McKinney & Silver has evolved from the founder’s original concept into the advertising arm of a new media and marketing communications conglomerate that agency creative director David Baldwin, 38, said has a 21st century vision all its own.
“We are creating a new category, a company whose ideas touch people no matter who or where they are,” Baldwin said. “There are so many different strategies being pursued here [that] we’re the ones trying to define what the model of the new agency is going to be.”
Agency observers have noted the transition has not always been smooth. Last year McKinney lost its flagship account, Royal Caribbean, to Arnold Communications in Boston. It also failed in more high-profile pitches than it won in 1999.
“You would have thought that USWeb/CKS would have provided more brands [for McKinney to service], at least two or three a year, just by following in ground CKS already plowed,” said Rockett, now a principal of Rockett Burkhead & Winslow. “I’m not sure the territories of the two business are overlapping as much as they thought . . . and then [losing] Royal Caribbean was quite a blow.”
Maurer said while there might have been problems during the merger of USWeb/CKS a year ago, McKinney is “starting to hit [its] stride now.” He also disagreed with those who claim the shop is still looking for a signature account to replace the cruise line: “That is absolutely not true. Point-blank: Audi is our signature account.”
Maurer termed the Audi comeback “one of the best automotive turnarounds in history. Six years ago, [Audi] was in deep trouble . . . the brand had stagnated a bit. We. . . were able to [make Audi] one of the leading European imports.”
Audi has registered five straight years of double-digit growth, with 1999 sales up 39 percent to 66,000 units.
Some observers had off-the-record opinions about whether the contemporary Mc-Kinney is an evolution or a different animal altogether. But one voice remained silent.
McKinney, now 68, whose perspective on what has become of the agency is probably the most insightful, did not return Adweek’s calls.
“Chick never was up for that sort of thing, and I’m not surprised he’s not much up for it now,” Rockett said. “In the circles I run with, he’s gotten a reputation as being sort of recluse, but he’s a brilliant man. He created a beautiful agency.” K