There's a break in the Ad Age A-List photo shoot while the crew coats the blue floor in yellow paint, which means McCann Worldgroup CEO Harris Diamond has a few minutes to kill. Tieless in a black suit, he settles down in front of our video camera. Our question is lighthearted: "If you were stranded on a desert island with a TV that looped only one or two commercials, what would you choose to watch?"
Diamond doesn't hesitate. He selects the Verizon and Mucinex spots from this year's Super Bowl. Yes, they're both commercials from his agency. And he's unapologetic about it. Diamond won't even consider ads from other agencies. McCann all day, every day.
This isn't an agency accustomed to watching paint dry. McCann's fierce competitive streak drives an agency that, despite its enormous size, in 2017 posted 6 percent revenue growth in the U.S.—up about $15 million—over the prior year. According to R3 Worldwide, McCann led all agencies in U.S. new business won from January to October, reeling in new revenue of $106.4 million, as the agency took on new accounts like HomeGoods, Powerade, National Geographic, Ulta and MGM Resorts International. Its only major loss was Office Depot/OfficeMax.
McCann swept award show after award show, with one particular star: "Fearless Girl," which brought home 18 Cannes Lions for McCann's trophy case. The defiant bronze statue also picked up five Grand Clio's—the most in history—and three Grand Prix at the London International Awards, four at the Cresta Awards and one of only two awards at Epica.
In total, McCann Worldgroup amassed 115 Cannes Lions across 24 countries last year, a new record for the festival, and McCann New York was named the Most Effective Agency in North America at the North American Effies in June.
"Would we have known ahead of time that 'Fearless Girl' was going to be lightning in a bottle? No," says Diamond. "The threshold that we're really focused on reaching is that we have the most creative idea that fits in society, becomes part of culture and is something that is both fun and successful, and magnifies way beyond a simple placement."
But with lightning came thunder as State Street, the parent of the company that erected "Fearless Girl," settled with the U.S. Labor Department in October over allegations that it paid hundreds of female and black executives less than their male and white counterparts.
The agency's feistiness was apparent when McCann took the stunning step of protesting that it was unexpectedly eliminated from the U.S. Army's mandatory review. The protest resulted in McCann being reinstated, and the Army renewed its contract with the shop for the first nine months of 2018.
Another creative highlight came from Fitzco/McCann, a business unit within the agency devoted to Coca-Cola North America, which teamed up last year for Coca-Cola's ambitious "Share-a-Coke 1,000 Name Celebration." The Coke site saw a 177 percent jump in traffic and a 264 percent increase in sales following the initiative, according to McCann. The initiative included songs that were written for people with rare names. It took 30 writers, 2,625 hours of songwriting, 45 musicians and over 620 hours of recording to create the 1,000-plus unique songs, the agency says.
With so much success in 2017, the issues now for McCann are how long it can keep up this pace—and can it top itself next year?
The response is pure Diamond: "That's the bar that McCann will always have. But I think it's one that our
people like, and it's not a bad measurement goal to compete against."