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The New Head of McCann Erickson N.Y. Misses the Rain and Camaraderie of London

Chris Macdonald's transition to the agency's flagship office


Specs
Who Chris Macdonald
New gig president, McCann Erickson New York
Old gig CEO, McCann Erickson London; chairman, McCann Worldgroup
Age 47

You grew up in Oxford. Did you ever think you would work in the U.S. ad business?
I never did but always wanted to. I’ve worked on American brands with American clients and had a romantic, positive view of America and the culture. I like that it’s open and honest, which is refreshing. The Brits are slightly less open and honest. There’s diversity here. I’ve never dealt with more nationalities and more language. This country has a culture of selling. In England we avoid selling; often we either sell accidently or begrudgingly. The selling culture here is proactive or entrepreneurial. Some of the U.S. selling techniques around brands or even the local shops are bloody amazing.

How’s it going in the new job? What’s the mood like at McCann Erickson New York?
There’s been a lot to do: meeting clients, developing relationships, working on pitches, getting to know people internally and thinking about how to develop the culture. There were recent times when it wasn’t the McCann we know and love. Thanks to the people here, this agency now feels energetic, optimistic and hungry. We’ve signaled how we’re building the culture. There’s one McCann and everyone supports each other, even down to things like when we have beer on Thursdays at 5 p.m. called Truth Well Brewed (a play off McCann’s mantra Truth Well Told). We’re also getting closer to our sister Worldgroup agencies.

What are the biggest differences in your New York work life as opposed to London?
It’s bizarre that there’s food in every meeting. Most of the time in England everyone comes to a meeting if you provide beer. There are also some of the obvious clichés that you don’t realize until you get here about how big this country is, the time zones, the fact you can drive for six hours and still be in New York State. I’m dealing with a lot of completely different brand stories, brand histories, places in people’s minds here, and I’m lucky to have good people around me to help.

What do you miss about working in London?
I miss the rain, the fact that McCann is in a building only four stories high. Here my office is on the 24th floor and my apartment on the 36th floor whereas in England my house had three floors. Another thing, London is an advertising village. We all know each other, grew up together, went to the same dinners and parties. We had a strange inbred camaraderie. Here it’s disparate because clients are all over the country, and because of the size of agencies, you don’t have as many opportunities to get together.

Who were some of your mentors in the U.K.?
One of the places that defined me was Lowe Howard-Spink in the mid-’90s because of the way they delivered great creative work. Another one was Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R for having entrepreneurial founders aligned with a network. That was a massive learning curve.

What advice would you give to someone in London about moving into the U.S. ad industry?
Watch out for sarcasm. Don’t be put off if people don’t react immediately. Sometimes they stare at you and wonder, “Is he being serious or is he being funny?” We really are divided by a common language. Another thing is this is such a massive country with so many celebrities, so much going on, so many brands that are active in the marketplace. You really are on a massive learning curve. You’ve got to be the most inquisitive you’ve been since you were a grad trainee at the age of 21.

Photo: Alfred Maskeroni

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