Agency of the Year: Mcgarrybowen

Old world, new times, slam dunk

Mcgarrybowen CCO Gordon Bowen (l.) and CEO John McGarry | Photo: Ben Shaul


It’s a win for the ages—literally. Mcgarrybowen, led by a trio of veteran admen who’ve been around the block and then around it again, has bested the competition with a new business run that added an estimated $66 million in revenue to its coffers—a 60 percent jump from 2010.

Three consecutive wins in just 11 weeks—Sears, Burger King, and United Continental—and project work on Bud Light supplied nearly half of the revenue gain for the nine-year-old shop. The rest came from new assignments on existing accounts, including Verizon Wireless, Kraft Foods, Chevron, and Marriott.

The self-described “populist” agency—whose work generally has an upbeat, glossy, and comforting aesthetic—is best known for its old-fashioned attention to relationship building and client service, an exceptional responsiveness, and a penchant for thinking beyond marketing briefs to consider all aspects of a company’s business. It’s also selective: This year alone it turned away seven new business opportunities, according to director of business development Brandon Cooke.

Marketing leaders at Verizon, Kraft, and United say Adweek’s U.S. Agency of the Year is personified by its gracious but tenacious CEO John McGarry. At 72, he has defied industry actuarial tables to top his first act as a premier account leader at Young & Rubicam.

“He exhausts me. He exhausts everybody here,” marvels his 43-year-old son, John McGarry III, who leads the shop’s digital offering. The CEO, along with the agency’s other co-founders—chief creative officer Gordon Bowen, 60, and chief strategic officer Stewart Owen, also 60—built mcgarrybowen after careers spent largely at big shops like Landor Associates, where Owen worked in the 1980s and early ’90s, and Ogilvy & Mather, where, in the ’80s, Bowen helped craft American Express’ iconic “Portraits” campaign.

Great year aside, it must be said that one thing hasn’t changed: The agency’s creative work still garners little respect from peers. A steady reliance on sentimentality, as exemplified by the regular use of emotive music, strikes some as hokey and formulaic. It’s not exactly what Cannes gold Lions are made of.

“We believe in the power of emotion. We’re not afraid of it,” Bowen explains. “Some agencies are too cool for school; we’re not.” Besides, he adds, “I don’t serve the advertising industry. . . . My job is to serve the brands by getting into their DNA and bringing out and enhancing—through all the art forms that are at our fingertips—their brand, their iconography, or their products, and to maximize their short- and long-term sales.”

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