McCann-Erickson’s worldwide machine continues to uncover the simple ideas Global Contact

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became the ad industry titan in 1991, it has vigorously—and successfully—defended its title.

With worldwide billings of more than $21 billion and operations in 131 countries, McCann-Erickson WorldGroup is the globe’s biggest network, and one of the best. Despite its girth, it nimbly mobilizes its worldwide troops to service clients.

Case in point: Microsoft.

During the six months leading up to last November’s launch of Microsoft’s Internet browsing service, MSN, the network’s worldwide account director on the business, Mike McLaren, was on the phone each Wednesday at 7 a.m. with his core team. His MSN “war room” in San Francisco had the words “Boom Boom Boom” pasted on the door (to convey the importance of the work being done there), and its walls sported various creative concepts.

McLaren, 36, was joined by Eric Einhorn, 48, McCann WorldGroup’s director of marketing in New York, where it was 10 a.m.; Rhian MacKenzie, 32, the European group account director in London, where it was 3 p.m.; and Martin Lever, 32, an associate creative director in Hong Kong, where it was 11 p.m.

The calls helped the team coordinate efforts, share strategies and ideas and avoid potential cultural disasters. During one session, for instance, a caffeine-ingesting Lever raised a red flag. He believed a global spot in the works for MSN’s Hotmail would not go over well in Asia. The ad, now familiar in the U.S., was to feature an attractive woman who uses her beauty—and an improvised tendency to spill drinks—to lure men away from their laptops so she can send e-mail. Asians, Lever noted, generally wouldn’t respond favorably to a woman being so devious. So it was retooled to feature a Korean woman waiting for a man to leave his computer before using it to check her messages.

“Simplicity is the key to any great global idea,” Lever explains. “The simplicity of the ‘Make it your home’ campaign made the job of adaptation in Asia-Pacific a relatively pain-free exercise.”

The launch of the campaign in 18 markets in North America, Europe and Asia went so smoothly that McLaren likened it to “just pressing a button.”

MSN is but one example of how McCann’s extensive infrastructure services global clients.

The process starts with the development of a creative and strategic “footprint” for each brand that every McCann office around the globe follows. The footprint McCann developed for MSN enabled the agency to be agile enough to respond to the fluid attributes of an Internet brand. The brand footprint had been so well defined over several months that the four spots highlighting MSN’s core functions—search, e-mail and shopping—remained relevant throughout.

McCann’s talent, tools and teamwork resulted not only in a successful campaign for MSN, but in significant new-business wins and revenue growth across the network. For the third consecutive year, McCann is Adweek’s global Agency of the Year.

“Your worst fear is that you’re taking something that has been hugely successful and you drop the ball,” says Jim Heekin, who assumed the post of CEO of McCann WorldGroup in 2000. “The hope, dream and desire is to figure out a way to distance your lead and take it to another level.”

One of the goals last year was to boost new business in Europe, a challenge the agency met. “Europe came to the party in a major way this year,” says Heekin, 51.

In addition to the MSN work, McCann’s European offices secured business from General Motors (Opel), OnStar, Lufthansa, Hennes & Mauritz and others to register an $826 million increase in billings. The agency’s U.S. wins included Microsoft’s Xbox, GM’s corporate account and Kohl’s department stores.

As the agency has absorbed new business around the world, it has maintained the quality of its worldwide reel—and in some places raised it. New standout spots include one for Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet, in which a politician gets his comeuppance at the hands of an elderly woman in a nursing home; and another from the Belgium office for William Lawson scotch, in which rival soccer teams try to psych each other out before a match.

“There’s a very defined culture here about winning, about teamwork, about not being denied,” says Heekin. “It’s a dedication to core values.”