In the current climate, McBride remains cautious as he attempts to steer his shop toward safe waters. These days, "what probably keeps me going is living subtly in fear of what I don't want to have happen. I think I always try to keep a hopeful eye to the future and a wary eye to the present." He's the one to do it, if anyone can, given his track record spearheading some of the most respected work on the West Coast, during his copywriting tenure at Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, and overseeing Levi's and Nike, respectively, at FCB/San Francisco and Wieden + Kennedy before landing at TBWA. Last year he added on North American CD responsibilities, in which he's acted as a father figure to the network's U.S. shops and the Toronto office.
McBride's own efforts to rebuild in San Francisco come at a time when the entire network looks poised to enter a new phase. Last month, John Hunt, acclaimed creative honcho of South African outpost TBWAHuntLascaris moved to New York to become worldwide creative director, with Lee Clow being named CCO. "John's one of the finest in the business; he's someone you want on your team," he says excitedly. "He can really manage a global perspective on what our brands are up to and, from a creative person's point of view, add some excitement to those meetings. The business is being done more globally, so we need someone who has some capacity to check up on those things. His presence in New York will be huge for us if the business there became incredibly robust. It would be a true worldwide anchor for the TBWA network."
As the network is poised to fortify globally, McBride has already been doing the same in San Francisco. In 2002, his entire senior creative team moved on - Jeff Labbe to Leo Burnett; Todd Grant; to his former haunt, Goodby; and Eric King to a new directing career at Headquarters. As disappointing as the losses may be - all three were instrumental in the agency's most visible and impressive work in the last few years, for Levi's, Fox Sports, and adidas - McBride isn't complaining. "I've prided myself in supplying other agencies with a lot of talented people," he laughs. In turn, this has given him the opportunity to bring an international face to his creative department, in the form of Boyd Coyner and Kai Zastrow, most recently freelancers from Amsterdam who've partnered in Europe on adidas, Nike, Coca-Cola and T-Mobile. The pair's global experience will play a key role in the shop's strategies for adidas.
A year after the agency won the account, we have yet to see McBride and his team go full throttle on a large branding effort. So far the work has been mostly product-driven, as with spots like "Slugs" and "Mechanical Legs," which promoted new shoe tech. "It's this awesome responsibility that has to be well planned, otherwise you can spend a lot of time practicing," he says. "We don't have the money or the resources to waste a lot of time zig-zagging our way to this destination."
His cautious business sense he learned the hard way on Levi's, a brand the creative powerhouse nurtured from his days as CD at FCB/S.F., where he evolved the "Reasons Why" campaign and jumpstarted the "Wide Leg" phenomenon - to when he moved to Chiat and led on quiet pleasers like "Crazy Legs" and "Navel" before the account moved to BBH in 2002. "It definitely screws on your maturity hat real quick," he points out. "It was a frustrating situation, to say the least, but I think I've learned quite a bit from it. I'm more of a realist in terms of the business of advertising. When I first got here, the rumor was that the account was gone, so to sit there for almost three years and hold onto it was everything I could do. That's not how you want to exist as a creative person, to be defensive all the time. You quickly realize that advertising isn't just doing a series of good ads. It's actually building strong, strategic rationales; it's making sure the people you're in partnership with agree with and invite, if not encourage, those strategic directions to the point where you're total partners. You both have equity in that thinking - that's going to be the foundation of your relationship." McBride assures that with adidas, the foundation and partnership are definitely stronger, but there's still much work to be done. He's already a proven heavy-hitter when it comes to sports, considering his landmark work for Nike, like "Morning After" and "Beautiful." Adidas, however, is an altogether different player. "Using the sports metaphor, they're both great athletes, but they're different." Nike has all the skills but also the mouth, whereas I think adidas has got the skills but is more the kind of athlete that over time you realize, 'Man, that guy's a great person.' The brand has got almost mythical qualities to it; yet, as a consumer, I can't really remember anything they've done from a communications standpoint that stood out in my youth. But adidas was a brand that I wore in junior high school, the brand. To me, here's this sleeping giant and it's our job to wake it up and reassert its leadership. Their position has always been very democratic that way. It feels a little bit more inspired, there's an inclusiveness, a real human interest there that's really powerful. The challenge is to articulate that and have that be expressed in a way that resonates for a global audience."