Agency A-List 2015

McCann Worldgroup's Harris Diamond Is Ad Age's 2015 Agency Executive of the Year

Chairman-CEO Infused Network With New Blood, Fostered Spirit of Collaboration

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Harris Diamond is the first to admit that "large is, in our world, sometimes perceived as a negative."

And in late 2012, when Mr. Diamond took over as McCann Worldgroup chairman-CEO, the company was seen as just that: a monolith of jumbled agencies that didn't work particularly well together.

Since then, Mr. Diamond has infused the network with new blood and fostered a spirit so collaborative that it scooped up the massive global Microsoft business. It was a huge coup that required competing for the business as part of an Interpublic team. The resulting creative shop, called m:united, includes some McCann creative manpower.

Mr. Diamond also changed the network's siloed mindset to leverage its far-flung capabilities. Today, what starts off as an advertising request for proposal at McCann can translate into a number of additional opportunities, such as mobile campaigns, sponsorships or relationship marketing, that span one or more of the network's many agencies.

Those who know Mr. Diamond caution not to underestimate him. "He ran a campaign for a governor down in Texas," said Jack Leslie, chairman at IPG sibling Weber Shandwick, who at one time was a political consultant along with Mr. Diamond. "They called him Diamond Harris -- they couldn't believe that this boy from Brooklyn was running a Texas campaign."

Similarly, "a lot of people at McCann were probably surprised" by Mr. Diamond's appointment at McCann Worldgroup, said Mr. Leslie. He succeeded fast-talking Brit Nick Brien, who was certainly cut from a different cloth. "They assumed he was coming in as a management guy worried about the numbers, but in fact he's a passionate guy who's really about the clients."

The genius of Mr. Diamond, whose background includes, in addition to politics, PR and a stint in the comptroller's office at Prudential, is that he truly knows his clients' challenges and opportunities. "He happens to lead a creative agency, a marketing agency, but first and foremost, he is a business person," said Alan Batey exec VP-president North America at General Motors, who works with McCann on Chevrolet. "He understands that he needs to drive our business forward."

To do that, you need motivators. "This is a star-driven business, right? At the end of the day, we all know that," Mr. Diamond said. "You want the stars who are going to fit, who are going to drive others, who are going to help them be better than they would be by themselves."

To build that team, he brought McCann London CEO Chris Macdonald over to New York to become agency president in early 2013. In June, he recruited CP&B's Suzanne Powers to be McCann's global chief strategy officer and last year he added CP&B head creative Rob Reilly as creative chairman of the Worldgroup network.

This group helped notch a 20% increase in revenue for 2014 at McCann U.S. and a winning streak of new business including Cigna, Cisco Systems, Choice Hotels, Office Depot and RB.

Client retention is also top of mind at McCann and a contributing factor to the relatively few account losses the global agency has had this year. "In this business, there's a tendency to have a hunter mentality," said Mr. Diamond. "Not everyone likes to be the one to be the farmer."

But farm McCann does, with longstanding client relationships, including GM, Nestle, Coca-Cola, L'Oreal, American Airlines, General Mills and MasterCard -- some of those date back back to the 1920s and 1940s. For that reason, Mr. Diamond insists on treating current clients like new-business pitches, at least once in a while.

And though small agencies can sometimes seem nimbler, Mr. Diamond said, there really isn't any reason for them to necessarily have a creative leg up. "If they do, God bless -- they're gonna win," said Mr. Diamond. "And one day they're gonna be as big as McCann."

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