McLaren's big mission: Make McCann deliver for Microsoft

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As McCann WorldGroup's first exec VP-director of global accounts, Michael McLaren is really concerned with just one: Microsoft.

Mr. McLaren, a 40-year-old Aussie and one-time surfer dude, has guided the Microsoft account since 1999, when the software marketer decided to drop independent Wieden & Kennedy and consolidate its business with McCann-Erickson, San Francisco. Today, with global billings at nearly $1 billion, Microsoft is one of the top five clients of Interpublic Group of Cos. based on revenue as of Dec. 31, 2003, according to corporate reports.

So it's not too surprising his main focus is Microsoft, especially given a Microsoft executive suggested Mr. McLaren for his new post. Mike Delman, Microsoft general manager-advertising and events, asked that Mr. McLaren be brought to New York to oversee global implementation of the brand strategy throughout McCann. Mr. McLaren "has been the glue that held together and built the relationship," Mr. Delman said. "It's a great opportunity to test himself-the notion of playing in New York at that senior level, sitting at the right hand of [McCann Chairman-CEO] John Dooner," Mr. Delman said.

One of Mr. McLaren's biggest successes was to help navigate Microsoft's brand through the antitrust storms that threatened to cloud the company's marketing. He also was key in implementing CEO Steve Ballmer's strategic, softer positioning that Microsoft is a company that can help individuals reach their potential. Now, as he sets up shop in New York, he's beginning to coordinate the activities of media shop Universal McCann, relationship marketing unit MRM and other disciplines.

`change agent'

Mr. McLaren, who worked at WPP Group's Ogilvy & Mather, New York, during the IBM turnaround, saw how that account changed the entire agency. "I actually believe Microsoft can be a similar change agent for our organization," he said.

Behemoth though it is, Microsoft still faces a myriad of challenges. Detractors point to overreliance on its Windows and Office products, as well as its need to further develop ancillary brands, such as MSN, XBox and high-end business-solution products. At the same time, the open software Linux juggernaut, fueled by an effort from IBM, has begun to pick up steam.

"My challenge is to drive Microsoft to be the next Microsoft," Mr. McLaren said.

Mr. McLaren, a University of New South Wales graduate who joined Unilever as a trainee, worked his way into a position as brand manager for Aim toothpaste in Australia. During a sojourn program where agency personnel shifted jobs with marketing executives, Mr. McLaren went to work at Lintas, where he became "inspired by the creative process," and the fact "those guys had a lot more fun." He worked at Lintas for 10 years; he ended up running Ammariti Puris Lintas' Singapore office as the Asian economy was sinking. "You get a very innate sense of your cash flow when you have to make payroll," he said.

Mr. McLaren said the secret of good account management is playing "your A-game every day. You have to delight your client every week, not just `do meetings."' Microsoft's Mr. Delman finds Mr. McLaren, who once indicated he might not have been counting all his strokes in a golf game, has an "innocence about him which is endearing." Harry Corsham, a Brit who took over for Mr. McLaren as worldwide account director on the Microsoft business in San Francisco, said a compulsive Mr. McLaren took a lost bet on an Australian-British rugby match well, "but it took him three weeks to choose the perfect Australian wine" to pay off the debt.

Mr. Dooner described Mr. McLaren as a "mixologist," who will bring to bear the full force of the agency on the Microsoft business, but he declined to comment on speculation Mr. McLaren was headed for a rapid rise in Interpublic's ranks. Mr. Dooner said he even wasn't really sure that a seat literally at his right hand would work. "He better not do that, or he'll be out the window," Mr. Dooner said. "He can sit at the left."

Résumé

Name: Michael McLaren

Age: 40

Now: Exec VP-director of global accounts on the worldwide Microsoft Corp. business

Who: An Aussie who grew up surfing on some of Sydney's legendary shores, Mr. McLaren cut his teeth in package goods, eventually winding up at Lintas and then at Ogilvy & Mather, New York, during the transformation of the IBM business.

Challenge: To ensure McCann Erickson WorldGroup delivers for one of Interpublic's top five clients.

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