5 more lessons learned along the way

Meaningful Brand Experiences
Published April, 2021

It’s Day Two and here are the next five tips-insights-words-of-wisdom-random-access-memories to mark the 25th anniversary of McMillan, the agency I founded so very long ago. Take what you like and leave the rest.

Gordon McMillan, Founder and Chief Creative Officer

Tip 6: While others play classical, choose to play jazz. When I was a teen, I played classical flute. Obsessively. Three to four hours on weekdays. More on weekends. Almost took it up as a profession. But when I decided to postpone university for a year and bum around Europe, flute packed in my backpack, I realized that I had been sticking to sheet music for years. Now I needed to play by ear, improvising as I went, going in crazy musical directions. It was liberating. I think the same applies to any creative endeavor. The very best work we have produced at McMillan has come when we’ve riffed off each other’s ideas, going off on tangents that have led us to explore intriguing new possibilities. I still love classical. But when it comes to the creative process, I play jazz.

Tip 7: Prioritize gooder over bigger. A few years into this McMillan adventure, I was making plans to expand the agency. A colleague asked why I wanted to do that. It was a great question. To answer it, I had to step back and ask myself, “What does success look like?” If the work is good and the quality of work-life is good and the client relationships are authentic and strong, then maybe THAT is the reward. BTW, my colleague was a Buddhist. They always seem to ask the best questions.

Tip 8: Stop trying to fix things you’re bad at. Skills development is critical to professional growth, but don’t make a goal of being good at everything. Sometimes it’s better to focus on what we are good at and let others complement our deficits. I remember hanging out with Nick Law, former agency creative who is now VP, Marcom Integration at Apple. He observed that writers and designers tend to fit into one of two categories: the storytelling mind and the systems mind. Both types are valuable, but if I ask a writer who is systems oriented to spin a good yarn, all I will get is a stressed-out writer. I’m in the storyteller category and to be honest, the idea of manipulating even a simple Excel spreadsheet stresses me out entirely. Now, I could struggle to learn Excel, or I can surround myself with amazing systems minds. I think you know the preferred option.

Tip 9: Make it your mission to support the personal brand of your client. Branding is about reputation. Our job is not just to elevate the reputation of the brands we work with but also the reputation of the marketing executives who work with us. They have hard jobs, having to fight for resources that might otherwise go to engineering or sales. That’s why we make a point of figuring out how we can support our clients’ reputation within their own company and within their industry.

Tip 10: Encourage a healthy sense of urgency Some years ago, the Chief Creative Officer of the well-known, global agency BBDO revealed his secret to encouraging great creative: Give your team less time. While his edict didn’t always make him the most popular CCO, the agency’s new business win rate skyrocketed, and his creative team ultimately came to admire him. I remembered that insight and we apply it to every project, making sure we have enough time to do it right but not enough time to sit on our asses and second guess what in pressure-filled moments our instincts know to be true.

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