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A winning mix: in the new-business game, determination and qualifications make McCann-Erickson the agency to watch year after year By Michael McCarth

In late January, at a time when most of Madison Avenue had alre

Although McCann and parent Interpublic Group of Companies came up short on Olds, the last-ditch effort and the don’t-take-no-for-an-answer attitude showed why the agency continues to be one of the most successful players in the new-business field.
Over the last seven years, McCann has steadily outperformed nearly every major agency, both at attracting new clients and at snagging new accounts from existing clients. For 1992, even as much of the industry focused on McCann’s three-way dance with Coca-Cola and Creative Artists Agency, the shop quietly compiled an 11.3% gain in net billings–the best new-business showing of any agency on ADWEEK’s year-end scorecard. In all, McCann increased billings by $184 million while losing $25 million. Runner-up J. Walter Thompson posted a gain $186 million but lost $46 million.
How can McCann, pressured heavily by longtime client Coke, continue to do so well on the new-business front? “The culture of the agency plays a huge part in our success,” says John Dooner, president of McCann-Erickson Worldwide. ‘”vie have a culture that attacks client problems with the attitude that we will do what it takes to solve client needs. And we have a not-to-be-denied attitude.” Says one executive who has competed with McCann several times over the last few years, “They are very aggressive, and they always come into a pitch loaded for bear.”
Three times since 1985, McCann-Erickson/North America finished as the year’s No. 1 agency in terms of new-business gains. Two other times it ranked in the top three. Last year, McCann collared clients across a spectrum of categories, including retailing (the $40-million Safeway Stores account), packaged goods (the $28-million Anacin business) and automotive (the $15-million Allied-Signal automotive worldwide business-to-business account). And with 1993 not yet three months old, McCann has already reeled in the $20-million worldwide Tiffany & Co. account and the $5-million Lees Residential Carpets business.
Dooner says last fall’s promotions of John Fitzgerald to vice chairman/North America and David Warden to general manager of the New York office added strength to the agency’s new-business attack. But he cites three main reasons for McCann’s prowess. First, there’s creative–McCann-Erickson Worldwide copped a festival-high eight prizes at Cannes in 1992. Then there’s resources–the agency is known to fly in account and creative specialists from all over the globe to help on a big pitch. And finally, there’s reputation. “Never underestimate the power of momentum–when I call and say I’m from McCann, most clients listen,” says an executive who recently joined the agency from a smaller New York shop. “At my old shop, it was like swinging a lead bat when I came up to the plate.”
When the time comes for a lean and mean approach, McCann adapts quickly. On the Lees Carpets pitch, for instance, the agency used a stripped down creative/account team that was ready to begin advertising from day one. “(McCann) showed us several advertising campaign ideas that we felt we could run with right away,” says Lees vp/advertising Dan Schaffer.
That’s part of the agency’s strategy, says Warden, who came to McCann from Ogilvy & Mather. “We are willing to tailor how we run our accounts,” he explains. “We don’t impose any structures or preconceived roles, and we’re willing to think outside the lines.”
For many potential clients, the agency’s worldwide network–142 offices in 84 countries–is a strong lure. Diana Lyne, senior vp/marketing for Tiffany, says McCann beat three other global shops for her company’s business because of its creative and its ability to tailor the work to different global regions. “That’s what impressed me more than anything else,” she says. “We were looking for an agency with strong worldwide credentials, and McCann has a strong European network. (McCann’s) New York office also has great creative resources that we can draw on in the future.”
As for McCann’s in-your-face approach to new business, it comes from straight from the top. Dooner, Fitzgerald and other high-level execs play a leading role in reviews and pitches. It’s also not unusual for them to make cold calls on prospective clients.
But perhaps the best reason for McCann’s continued success is offered by a confident Fitzgerald, who came over in 1990 from Ketchum Advertising. Simply, he says, “We have a strong product to sell.”
Copyright Adweek L.P. (1993)