All they do is win: Mcgarrybowen is the Tim Tebow of Adland.

December 14, 2011

Winning despite all the naysayers

In 2011, the advertising agency, Mcgarrybowen became the AOR on Burger King, Sears, United/Continental and just the other day, Bud Light. Hard to believe they could top last year, when the agency also won more than its share of big accounts. While most advertising agencies have struggled –with new media, with the recession, with themselves- Mcgarrybowen has thrived. And they’ve done so without employing creative superstars or the attention grabbing pyrotechnics so coveted by their peers. And now they are seemingly without peer, having beaten in pitches most every Madison Avenue juggernaut and the creative powerhouses alike.

They have their haters. The trade blogs and comment strings are dripping with malevolence. Mcgarrybowen’s people are “old.” They are “hacks.” They do the kind of “traditional” work that gives “advertising a bad name.” “Conservative to a fault,” they do only what “the client wants.” They suck.

And yet…

Without big names in the corners or big trophies in the lobby, Mcgarrybowen wins every pitch they are in. And it’s not like they’re going after small fry. Blue chippers are as hard to come by as Blue Marlin, but their hulls are full of them.

Haters point at their creative product, saying “meh.” But this can only be construed as jealousy, or elitist scorn. Sort of like when film students deride Hollywood for making mass-appeal films instead of art. True, I can’t think of anything sensational they’ve done from a purely creative perspective but since when has advertising ever been made from a purely creative perspective? Besides, Burger King had “sensational” work. The kind of work that put them in the so-called “conversation.” Maybe the client just wanted good advertising.

Mcgarrybowen understands that this is a business, and like any business these days, budgets are shrinking and people are scared. Whether creative purists like it or not, big marketers want big ideas that are safe. That usually means showing the product and people enjoying it. Push the envelope a little but not off the table. It seems the agency will gladly forsake Gold Lions at Cannes for fat coiffers in New York and Chicago. And because of this they are the comfortable choice for CMO’s, over and over again.

John Mcgarry. Dinosaurs rule!

Theirs is an old school approach and one in which I wrote about when the agency’s winning streak began. Since that post they’ve won United/Continental and Bud Light. Those are the two biggest brands in two of the biggest categories on earth.

Tebow-like isn’t it? Against relentless criticism, all they do is win. I know several men and women at Mcgarrybowen here in Chicago. I “came up” with some of them at Leo Burnett. They will tell you there’s nothing magical behind their success. Just hard work, due diligence and a knack for listening. Whatever it is, it’s a great story. More power to them.


18 Responses to “All they do is win: Mcgarrybowen is the Tim Tebow of Adland.”

  1. Bill said

    I guess the easy thing to do would be to make some snarky comment about their creative…as if I’m lighting the world on fire. But, I think another way to look at it is they’re keeping a lot of business here in Chicago and they’re good people. Two things that I think helps this city.

  2. […] -Euro RSCG alum Steffan Postaer equates McGarryBowen to Tim Tebow. Please, make it stop. link […]

  3. The truth is that Mcgarrybowen has been consistently, and steadily growing in the past two years. They are a solid, if not daring choice, that will resonate with major brands and CMOs especially. The account team should most likely be the award winning heros in this agency.

    • SRP said

      David- Your take is shared by others, no doubt. I took the liberty to remove one line because it was out of context and irrelevant to your observation. Thank you for visiting and commenting.

  4. EugenS said

    It’s good for them they’re winning all these accounts. However, they are winning because they are the safe choice in a world were clients are afraid. Safe means bland, bland means mediocre. Their advertising will not hurt their clients. However, it will not make them great. It will just get them through this period. The moment the clients lose their fear is the moment Mcgarrybowen loses them.

  5. Der Senator said

    “It seems the agency will gladly forsake Gold Lions at Cannes for fat coiffeurs in New York and Chicago.”

    What does this have to do with hairdressers?

    • SRP said

      Der Senator -You didn’t know about the hairdresser clause? Seriously, thanks for the spelling correction. I listened to spell check when I should not have.

  6. Mo Money said

    The issue the industry should shave w /MB is that they’re accepting little or no fee for work, especially in the first years.
    In a time when we’re struggling to maintain income and fees, McGarry is happy to win at any cost.
    It is well known that they took United “at cost” for the first year or two.
    SO yes, they win. But the industry loses.
    Until we stand together and demand fair pay for good work that gets results, we’re on the way out.

  7. Jay Dub said

    The question becomes how sustainable the winning is? In the end, completing 48% of your passes isn’t going to take your team to the promise land. Ditto doing the kind of safe work the Mcgarrybowen does. Good clients like the positive press that comes from doing good work, and have a tendency to stick around. Bad ones tend to strong arm bad work through the system, and then jump ship the moment things get rough. I’m sure there’s a lot of talent at mcgarry, and the overarching “hack” meme going through the blogs right now is more sour grapes/hurtfulness that unfortunately rules this business right now. But at the same point, will you be impressed by the portfolio of the art director or copywriter who gets laid off after Burger King bolts in a year or two?

    Mcgarrybowen deserves credit for being on a good run right now. But all good runs come to an end. And I think it’s fair to say there’s something to be said about them not finding their success the right way.

  8. […] Me!: Ad Age on McgarryBowen, The Tim Tebow of Adland, McgarryBowen […]

  9. Jack D said

    They just lost Bug Light (and rumor is Burger King, too).

  10. The Truth said

    Every time I see McGarry on a resume I nearly always throw it in the trash. This is because healthy percentage of their staff are executors, not creators. Eg: “Copywriters” who are simply pun-writing novelists. “Art directors” who are techy digital pixel pushers. They have no insight or experience in how to tell a story, how to stir an emotional connection, let alone how to actually *sell* something.

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