Brad Brinegar, former CEO of Leo Burnett USA, Chicago, in February took the helm of McKinney & Silver, a Raleigh, N.C., agency that is owned by Havas Advertising. He succeeded Dan Maurer, who was killed in an automobile accident last October.
Brinegar has 22 years of experience in the ad agency business, during which he launched the Chicago office of Ammirati Puris Lintas and served as its president and CEO before running Burnett.
He plans to help McKinney develop new services to build on its reputation as a leading creative agency. McKinney clients include the Nasdaq stock market, XO Communications and Audi of America.
In a recent interview with BtoB, Brinegar discussed his goals for the agency and how the business is changing in response to the economy.
BtoB: Moving to McKinney from Leo Burnett was a big change. Why did the opportunity make sense for you?
Brinegar: I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to work in two dramatically different environments in launching and running agency brands. Ammirati Chicago was a new name in town, and Leo Burnett clearly was not. McKinney represents an opportunity to get close to the work, clients and strategic issues in ways you can’t at larger agencies.
BtoB: What’s your vision for the agency?
Brinegar: McKinney has a terrific creative reputation, and I want to build on that. I want to make sure we’re doing the most brilliant work and keep focused on that.
BtoB: Will you be introducing new services?
Brinegar: We don’t have a significant direct marketing capability. We have it through our association with Havas, but we may create a McKinney direct offering.
BtoB: What’s the timing on that, and how would it be accomplished?
Brinegar: It’s a mid-term goal. We would create a separate organizational structure to house it. You only see trouble when you put them under the same organizational structure.
While the disciplines of general advertising and direct seem to be the same, the purposes and skill sets are different. When you put a direct marketing operation in a creative environment, you end up with the worst of both worlds. It’s not truly brand-driven and not purely results focused.
BtoB: How important will direct be to your overall business offerings?
Brinegar: There’s a lot more customer data available, particularly as you move into the b-to-b sphere, and our ability to use that for brand growth and top-line growth is becoming increasingly important.
BtoB: What do you need to be aware of when introducing change to an agency that’s been through so much (including a wave of acquisitions and the death of Maurer)?
Brinegar: When you go through what they’ve been through, you either blow up or you get it right. This is a great group of people who pulled together. It’s one of the most collaborative groups I’ve ever worked with. When you introduce change, as it relates to the structure of the agency, it’s more about refinement and continuing to raise the bar. It’s not about changing the way we do business, but about taking advantage of the team spirit.
BtoB: How are agencies responding to the economy in the way they work with clients and the services they offer?
Brinegar: If you take the theme of specialization all the way, you’ll have ad experts doing advertising and direct people doing direct. Those who are operationally brilliant will focus on operations, and those who are strategically brilliant will focus on strategic issues. One of the advantages of having an agency this size [about 140 employees] is you don’t have a lot of legacy structures. There are fewer parts to move.
BtoB: Is compensation changing as a result of the economy?
Brinegar: There’s an ongoing trend toward performance-based compensation. We’ll continue to see more of that. There’s continued pressure on margins, which puts pressure on us to operate lean.
BtoB: When do you see ad spending picking up?
Brinegar: I get a sense, from increased movements in accounts right now, that a lot of new business is hitting the pavement these days. There are a lot more reviews now than in the fourth quarter. I hope it will start to rebound this year.