Mr. McGee, exec VP-managing director of Ogilvy & Mather's Los Angeles office, had taken home a company Mazda Millenia. He half thought it might prove good luck as he awaited the decision by Mazda North American Operations on the review of its $240 million ad account.
The win would be important for his $200 million shop, which has been anchored by Mattel's Barbie account, as well as a handful of other clients such as Pacificare, Korean Air Lines and American Express Co.'s Western Regional business.
Like many heads of branch offices of large multinational shops, Mr. McGee faced serious limitations in what accounts he could pitch.
And he was frustrated by the loss of Microsoft Corp. and Pacific Bell because other O&M offices picked up IBM Corp. and GTE Corp.
But he could pitch Mazda, partly owned by O&M client Ford Motor Co. In fact, for more than a year, ever since word of trouble on the Mazda account hit the streets, the Los Angeles ad community was abuzz with speculation the account would be handed to O&M as a reward for the agency's success with another Ford product, Jaguar.
But Mr. McGee said he never bought into the speculation.
"People said we were the frontrunner, but we were the odd man out," he said last week following news that Mazda had selected W.B. Doner & Co. He noted that the other two shops competing for the business-the third was GSD&M, Austin, Texas-have more of a retail orientation.
But when Foote, Cone & Belding was forced to resign the account, Mr. McGee, 53, geared up for the review. With the help of O&M offices from New York to Atlanta, he gathered a pitch team of 50. Together, they spent an estimated $400,000 to pull together a branding effort centered on the strategy of "irrepressible spirit."
The pitch focused on using the Millenia as a way to "add lift to the brand," said Mr. McGee, adding that the car was originally intended to compete with Lexus and Acura.
Mr. McGee hoped to bring the advertising out of what he considers the Southern California auto advertising "ghetto" mold-"they all go to the same roads; they all use the same leaves," he said of such ads.
But on Oct. 28, the bad-news call came from Shelly Lazarus, O&M's worldwide CEO, to his home. And Mr. McGee took his humiliating ride, driving the Millenia to his office, to hand in the keys to an assistant, who took them quickly. He then addressed the agency.
"It was a big disappointment to me and to the agency," he said. "Automobiles are an important category out here-I can't minimize it."
But then he went on to chastise them for standing around and not getting back to work.
"We have to remember we had a thriving agency before," he said. "We haven't lost