McCann Worldgroup Claims the 2019 Global Agency of the Year Crown for the First Time in Almost 2 Decades

The shop found a new sense of purpose after an especially big loss at the end of 2018

a group of people looking at each other and smiling
After the U.S. Army left the shop in 2018, McCann Worldgroup came back with a fresh sense of self.
Photography by Emily Winiker for Adweek

“We screwed up,” admits Harris Diamond, CEO of McCann Worldgroup, sitting in his loftlike New York office in Midtown Manhattan.

Emily Winiker for Adweek

The end of 2018 marked a massive loss for McCann: the U.S. Army, a client it was forced to hand over the reins on after a nearly 15-year run. DDB won the account late last year, officially bringing an end to what had become a yearslong, contentious battle that the Interpublic Group agency tried desperately hard to win—but ultimately didn’t after being eliminated from the review process for failing to submit the correct documentation.

But what Diamond describes as an “emotional loss” has hardly come to define McCann, which is one of the many reasons Adweek has chosen it as Global Agency of the Year for 2019, a title it hasn’t held since 2000. What could have been a major blow ended up being not much more than a lesson learned, a blip on the radar in a year rife with success.

In 2019, McCann racked up industry accolades ranging from Cannes Network of the Year to the Most Creatively Effective Agency Network in the Effie Index, all while churning out work for its impressive roster of clients. The through line in all of this creative output? Whether McCann is shining a light on how Microsoft is innovating for the disabled community, or helping L’Oréal fight ageism via a partnership with Vogue, the agency is one of the best in the business when it comes to giving brands purpose.


The stats

Key wins

Global: eBay, Fujifilm, Sarepta Therapeutics, Saudi Aramco

U.S.: ADT, Beam Suntory (Hornitos), Evofem Biosciences, Shoe Carnival, TGI Fridays

U.K.: AB InBev, British Land

Losses 

U.K.: Subway

2019 revenue

McCann Worldgroup grew by approximately 2.5% between November 2018 and September 2019 on a revenue base of approximately $2.4 billion.

Strategic moves

Promoted Alex Lubar to president of McCann Worldgroup Asia-Pacific; promoted Antony Cundy to president and CEO of McCann Worldgroup Japan; promoted Sheryl Marjoram to CEO of McCann London; hired Simon Sikorski as CEO of McCann Worldgroup Canada; promoted Kate MacNevin to global CEO of MRM//McCann; hired Matt Eastwood as global CCO of McCann Health; promoted Hilary Gentile to global CSO of McCann Health.

Diversity

Roughly 60% of McCann Worldgroup’s U.S. workforce identify as women. Roughly one-fourth of its U.S. workforce are people of color. Close to half of its executives (svp and above) identify as women, while roughly 15% are people of color.


gif of different people at mccann in funny poses

Shaking up the C-suite

Talk to any McCann executive and you’ll likely hear them utter the following: “Help brands play a meaningful role in people’s lives.” It might sound like trite corporate lingo, but it’s the rallying cry that the agency’s leadership team says has helped unite its global offices around a common goal.

It took hold five years ago, shortly after McCann began a leadership overhaul that started with the appointment of Diamond, who was tasked with turning around an agency that at the time was struggling because of account losses and a lack of new business. It wasn’t long before Diamond brought on Rob Reilly, former worldwide chief creative officer of CPB, as global creative chairman.

“When I started five years ago, we were trying to figure out the mission of the company,” Reilly says. “I think we hit the right note, and now it’s all lining up together.”

The agency’s global leadership team now includes chief strategy officer Suzanne Powers and president of global clients and business leadership Nannette LaFond-Dufour. It’s this group that’s helped usher in a creative renaissance at McCann, one that they agree is the result of helping brands play a meaningful role in people’s lives and putting a relentless premium on creativity.

“There’s a very clear understanding about what really makes us who we are,” notes Harjot Singh, McCann’s chief strategy officer, EMEA.

Adds Mark Lund, CEO of McCann Worldgroup U.K., “They encourage everyone in major offices around the world to value creativity, invest in it properly, and to prize and reward it. You wouldn’t do that if you didn’t see it happening in the hub of the network.”

Ageism is rampant in the fashion and beauty industries, so L’Oréal partnered with British Vogue for a special edition of the magazine that featured women over 50. The issue starred Jane Fonda on the cover, and featured other L’Oréal ambassadors, including Isabelle Adjani, makeup artist Val Garland and Helen Mirren.

Ramping up the work

McCann started the year strong, with Super Bowl commercials for Microsoft and Verizon both landing in the top five on USA Today’s Ad Meter. The agency’s spot for Microsoft featured young gamers who use the Xbox Adaptive Controller, a device designed to meet the needs of people with disabilities, to play video games.

According to Microsoft CMO Chris Capossela, the company initially had no plans to spotlight the Adaptive Controller in the Super Bowl. But once McCann saw the device, which was created by a small number of engineers during a Microsoft hackathon, the agency knew there was something there.

“McCann was the one that said, ‘We’ve got to do something with this,’” Capossela explains, noting that the reactions to the spot were incredibly positive. “McCann really understands who we’re trying to be as a company, and that gets infused in the work that they do for us.”

Microsoft’s Super Bowl spot showcased the Xbox Adaptive Controller, a device that makes it easier for people with limited mobility to play video games. The spot starred a 9-year-old boy named Owen, as well as other kids, playing with the product and sharing their stories.

Integrating the agency into a client’s business is something that LaFond-Dufour says McCann prides itself on, particularly when it comes to longtime clients like L’Oréal, Mastercard and Microsoft.

“Oftentimes, we actually find ourselves training clients when they’re in new positions,” she says. “We know so much about their business. That brings incredible value and competitive edge to our relationships.”

In fact, Verizon CMO Diego Scotti praises McCann for helping the company go “from a telecom company to a technology company” over the past few years.

“McCann has been a huge part of making that transition a success,” Scotti says. “Not only do they create compelling and impactful work, they are a great strategic partner who continues to help us push the brand and our business forward.”

During Pride month this year, Mastercard unveiled True Name, a payment card that gives transgender and nonbinary people the option to use their chosen names on credit or debit cards without having to legally change their names.

Global stalwart

Some of the network’s most innovative, purpose-driven work this year has come from outside the U.S. McCann Paris created an interactive billboard for Purina that dogs can relieve themselves on to have their health checked (and so their owners can receive dietary recommendations courtesy of the dog food brand), which involved sourcing veterinary and technology partners to bring the idea to life in a reliable, medically sound fashion.

The agency’s Paris office also recently collaborated with McCann London to create a special edition of British Vogue for the magazine’s May issue. Called the “Non-Issue,” the bonus content, created for client L’Oréal, featured Jane Fonda on the cover and celebrated the stories of women over the age of 50 in an effort to combat ageism in the beauty and fashion industries.

McCann’s Shanghai office won a Grand Prix at this year’s Cannes Pharma Lions for GSK’s Breath of Life app, which lets users test themselves for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) by breathing into their phones. Another Grand Prix winner came in the form of McCann Tel Aviv’s ThisAbles, a line of Ikea 3D-printable products that make it easier for disabled people to use the retailer’s furniture.

Perhaps one of the most powerful examples of the agency’s purpose-driven work is its Pride initiative this year with Mastercard, one of McCann’s longtime clients. Mastercard announced the debut of its True Name card, which gives transgender and nonbinary people the option to use the names they go by—not their deadnames—on payment cards without the requirement of a legal name change. (Reilly credits the idea to a copywriter at McCann.)

“We’re not just people who do the ads,” Reilly says. “I think that’s what’s exciting—when you get those opportunities with clients that are actually so impactful in the world.”

This story first appeared in the Dec. 2, 2019, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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