Study All, Serve All: A Conversation with Brad Brinegar, CEO, McKinney

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ADOTAS sits down with Brad Brinegar, CEO of McKinney to talk about how anthropology effects advertising.

Think a degree in business is the fastest way to the top of the corporate ladder in the ad world? Think again. If you’re looking for an example of how eschewing the beaten path in favor of taking a risk or two can lead to success, look no further than Brad Brinegar, CEO and President of leading creative agency McKinney.

Think a degree in business is the fastest way to the top of the corporate ladder in the ad world? Think again. If you’re looking for an example of how eschewing the beaten path in favor of taking a risk or two can lead to success, look no further than Brad Brinegar, CEO and President of leading creative agency McKinney.”I went to Dartmouth and at Dartmouth you can’t major in business—[though] I’m not sure I would’ve anyway,” explains Brinegar, who would go on to become a top executive at some of the nation’s most respected advertising agencies, including Leo Burnett, before helming Mckinney. “But like a lot of 18 year olds I no idea what I wanted to do and thought a little arts education would be a way of learning how to think and exposing myself to a lot of different things.” Ultimately, this baritone-voiced future CEO would decide to major in cultural anthropology—an unorthodox choice for sure, but one that he considers crucial to helping him eventually gain foothold in the advertising world.

“I think the anthropology major was actually a pretty valuable way of preparing for this business because it was cultural anthropology. I wasn’t studying old bones; I was actually looking at different cultures and learning about how they attack the world. I learned fairly early on how to get out of my own shoes and get into other people’s shoes and understand what makes them tick. It’s probably one of the things that attracted me to advertising, the ability to bring that kind of perspective to business.”

Brinegar’s non-conformist approach quickly paid off in the business world: after earning his MBA in finance from Columbia University in1979 (some traditions are worth continuing), Brinegar was able to win over the big guns at Leo Burnett, who scooped him up in a heartbeat and held on tight for 18 years. Although he stepped away from the company for a few years to explore uncharted advertising waters, Brinegar couldn’t stay gone for long. “[I] left to run [Ammirati Puris Lintas] in Chicago, to launch that agency, and opened the Chicago office around the Ameritech account,” he tells us. It was during the time he spent building APL that Brinegar first took notice of the potential of interactive advertising.

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