McCann Time Capsule: Rebounding in the 1980s
August 8, 1979, was one of the darkest days in McCann’s, and especially McCann New York’s, history. A number of top executives had recently left the agency at that time to start their own shop, and, on that summer day, Miller Brewing, one of the agency’s largest accounts, announced that it was moving all three of its brands from McCann to that new agency.
How bad was it? As “Business Week” wrote: “Madison Avenue was taking bets that the agency would never recover.”
With billings in the $80-$90 million range, Miller represented 15 percent of the U.S. agency. Not only was it arguably the single largest account loss ever suffered by any agency, but the circumstances were stunning.
The talent that had left in June to start up the Backer & Spielvogel agency were top management, including: Bill Backer, the McCann vice chairman and longtime creative leader known for commercials like Coca-Cola’s famous “Hilltop” spot; and Interpublic vice chairman Carl Spielvogel, who had first joined McCann in 1960 and rose successively to top positions. Then they were soon joined at their agency by other top creative, management, account and media leaders from the McCann New York agency.
Moreover, Miller was a showcase account for McCann with high-visibility creative and strategic work. This included Miller Lite, which created the light beer category in the 1970s with the “It’s Everything You Always Wanted in a Beer. And Less” work; Miller High Life’s “If you’ve got the time, we’ve got the beer” campaign; and Lowenbrau’s “Here’s to good friends” commercials.
The company’s reaction to the Miller loss was major and immediate. McCann was restructured and split again, as it had been in earlier years, into two separate units —a U.S. and an International company—each reporting separately into Interpublic, accompanied by a series of top management changes.
In January 1981, Bill Mackey, who led the McCann International side, was named the new CEO of the once-again globally integrated McCann-Erickson Worldwide. Mackey, one of whose past jobs had been as CEO of IPG’s Marschalk agency, brought Bob James, his CEO successor at Marschalk, over to McCann to head U.S. operations and ultimately to succeed him as worldwide CEO. And Bob James in turn brought over from Marschalk John Dooner, who would become McCann’s worldwide CEO after Bob James.
The agency also started to add new accounts. Kicking off the momentum in early 1981 was the $20 million global Texas Instruments account. TI, a high tech innovator whose product line also included educational technology (such as that shown in the accompanying 1985 ad), appointed McCann in a worldwide consolidation that replaced 26 foreign and domestic agencies. Additionally, McCann began to see marketers like Nestlé and Nabisco returning as U.S. clients and new assignments from other multinationals, such as Gillette, Johnson & Johnson, and Unilever.
So what began as a somber decade ultimately turned into one of enormous revitalization. Between 1980 and 1990, McCann would almost triple in size from billings of $1.8 billion to $5.0 billion, with the U.S. rising from $430 million in billings to $1.4 billion.