North Carolina's McKinney Is Latest Shop to Try New York

Peter Nicholson Hired as Executive Creative Director of New York Office

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It only took 45 years. Durham, N.C.-based creative agency McKinney, known for its work for Travelocity and in earlier years, Audi, is setting up shop on Madison Avenue.

McKinney's move makes it one of a growing group of shops funneling resources into having a New York presence after decades of eschewing Madison Avenue (or attempting a presence and it not quite working the first time). For the 240-person agency, which last year was bought by Cheil Worldwide, it means a second office on the East Coast from which to service business and recruit talent.

In a statement, the company said Cheil USA's operations will now become part of McKinney's new offering in New York, "further establishing the agency as the creative and strategic centerpiece of Cheil Worldwide." For Cheil to be competitive in North America, having a creative outpost in New York to service clients seems a requirement. It's also helping McKinney open the office with two clients; Samsung and Hankook Tires.

First row from left: Yusuf Chuku, Jonathan Cude, John Newall; Second Row: Alex Van Gestel, Peter Nicholson, Brad Brinegar, Buz Sawyer.
First row from left: Yusuf Chuku, Jonathan Cude, John Newall; Second Row: Alex Van Gestel, Peter Nicholson, Brad Brinegar, Buz Sawyer.

To oversee creative work out of the new office, McKinney has recruited well-traveled industry exec Peter Nicholson. He was most recently at WPP's JWT, New York, and before that he spent time at MDC Partners' Redscout and Interpublic Group of Cos.' Deutsch. As executive creative director of McKinney, New York, he'll report to McKinney Chief Creative Officer Jonathan Cude and work in partnership with a new pair of execs -- Managing Director Alex Van Gestel and Head of Strategic Services Yusuf Chuku, who both join McKinney from Cheil USA.

Regarding his new senior creative recruit Mr. Nicholson, Brad Brinegar, chairman and CEO of McKinney, told Ad Age: "As a human being he's so McKinney-like and I love the experience he's had leading global creative for big brands, and also his willingness to step out of the traditional ad world and into different business models."

The team will have a range of shops from which to pluck talent, including newcomers to the market.

Earlier this month, San Francisco-based Goodby Silverstein & Partners announced it was finally ready to give New York a try. M&C Saatchi one year ago staged a comeback to the city, and before it, Chicago stalwart Leo Burnett -- to the surprise of adland -- decided to hang a shingle in New York.

What's with the parade of agencies opening in the Big Apple? It's about recruiting the very best people.

"There's a certain level of talent who are attracted to us but would never make the choice to move to North Carolina," said Brinegar. "We think it'll open us to a talent market that we wouldn't have access to otherwise."

In Mr. Brinegar's view, the fact that other agencies are also choosing now is a recognition that there are talented people in New York who haven't found really great context in which to do great work." He said: "Goodby knows that coming to New York will be a magnet for folks who aren't happy where they are. We see a pool of people who aren't happy with the options they have now."

To a smaller degree, he's also anticipating that New York, while always a global business hub, will become more important to clients in the digital era. "New York has been over the past couple of years, and will increasingly be so, a center of consumer technology advances. Silicon Valley is about a certain kind of technology ... New York, because of its communications orientations, will take the lead in terms of where consumer technology goes. We want to be physically in that conversation."

McKinney is close to making a definitive call on office space, and is going to be located in downtown Manhattan. Said Mr. Brinegar: "The intention is to have a very fluid and collaborative relationship between the two geographies," and allow staff to work on clients in both offices. "It's important that they not be set up to compete with each other."

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