"The only way for me to find out whether we were doing the best
job at training our students wasn't more research -- it was about
going to an agency," he said. "There was this thing inside me that
said, 'You're old. Can you be a 71-year-old writer and compete with
these kids, and be dropped in the middle of this fast-paced
industry that you teach students about?"
So, sheepishly, he approached a fellow BYU graduate, David
Morring, who is a longtime creative at Richards Group. They didn't
know each other well, having only met once, but Mr. McKinlay
explained his motivations and pitched the internship.
Mr. Morring then took the idea to his team, who agreed to take
on Mr. McKinlay -- unpaid -- for two months this summer (BYU
assisted Mr. McKinlay with some costs). It likely helped Mr.
McKinlay's case that Richards Group's CEO, Stan Richards, is age 80
and is still a very hands-on leader.
"Doug is just an all-around good guy," said Mr. Richards. "It
was a treat to have him here and learn from his extraordinary
experience as a professional and teacher." He added: "From a
selfish standpoint, one of the most important aspects of Doug's
time with us is the access we have to the creative talent at BYU.
BYU is turning out some great young talent, and we hope to be at
the top of their list when they graduate and seek an agency."
After being accepted, Mr. McKinlay managed to persuade his wife
to make the trek to Dallas. In some ways that pitch -- to lure
herto stay at a Marriott Residence Inn while he toiled sans pay for
a couple months -- was probably tougher than any he knew he'd need
to make to a client.
Mr. McKinlay said when he arrived at the agency, the staff
"didn't know quite what to do with me. People looked at me and
said, 'he's old, he's a copywriter and he's a professor?' "
But given his breadth of experience, he proved himself able to
add value. Mr. McKinlay had been a copywriter at General Electric,
worked at New England shop Wilson Haight & Welch in the early
'70s (when it was bigger than Arnold or Hill Holiday) on Spalding and later on
Stanley tools and Cigna health. He had his own Connecticut-based
agency for a time, McKinlay Advertising, which handled B2B and
consumer clients and reached $30 million in billings. It was after
that, in 1999, that BYU asked him to start an advertising
During his summer at the Richards Group, Mr. McKinlay was given
assignments on two clients, Orkin and AAA. And, in order for him
and the agency to get the most out of the experience, he was
partnered with a 25-year-old creative, Skyler Thiot.
Initially, Mr. McKinlay felt self-concious in meetings based on
the tech-savvy of staffers. "Everyone brought their Macbook pros,
and everyone had their iPhones with them, and in and out of
searching for visual assets on their computers." But he realized
that he was probably being more judgemental about his abilities
than the staff was. "Nobody ever thought of me as the old fart that
didn't know his way around social media," he said. Mr. McKinlay
calls himself a "passive user of social media" who has Facebook and
Instagram accounts but doesn't use them much, though he has 1,000
contacts on LinkedIn.
Of course assimilating to life in a general-market agency isn't
nearly as tough as blending in to the digital world. "In a totally
digital agency I would have had a much more difficult time
integrating, and people would have looked at me as the odd duck,"
he said. "I would have felt more uncomfortable, no doubt. Working
at [a place like] AKQA would have been a totally different
Following in his footsteps
Based on his experience, Mr. McKinlay hopes that all ad
professors will consider following in his footsteps to gain more
real-world ad knowledge. He proposes that, at minimum, every five
to seven years ad professors work inside an agency and take that
experience back to their classrooms.
He said agencies can benefit, too. "When you look at stereotypes
of older people in advertising, they are portrayed as stupid and
can't tie their own shoes," he said. "But you can be old and be
with it and be intelligent. I was productive in our brainstorm
meetings and generated ideas."
Richards Group creative Mr. Morring, Mr. McKinlay's fellow BYU
alum, said: "What I learned from Doug is that you can't get
complacent in anything you do. At 71, he could easily have mailed
it in and thought that he already had enough experience and wisdom
to share with his students.
"But he realized he had to get out there and make himself have
new experiences to be of real value to them. Doug made me realize
that age has nothing to do with energy and drive. You have to stay
hungry, whether you're 21, 41 or 71."