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

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“I guess I’ve had enough experience that has made me believe that brands weren’t all about TV commercials,” he says, “but about how about the brand actually lives in the world, whether it’s communication or the behavior of the brand. At that point we were at the beginning of the dot-com boom, [though] interactive advertising was not significant enough to pay a heck of a lot of attention to in terms of what we were able to invest in. But when I went back to run Leo Burnett USA back in 2000, they had already begun to dip their toes in the water.”

That particular experience as the CEO of a company with an increased focus on online advertising came in handy in 2002, when Brinegar packed his bags and moved to Durham, North Carolina to lead the charge at McKinney. In the three years since he’s joined the firm, McKinney has more than doubled in both revenue and profit and currently employs over 200 people. And to Brinegar’s mind, the world of interactive has a lot to do with that growth.

In particular, Brinegar views the adoption of broadband, which gave their already expanding online offerings an enormous boost, as a crucial piece of the puzzle. “When you look at the interactive space, the big difference is when you go to broadband,” he says. “That’s when it becomes a creative medium. So when we started to see broadband reach a tipping point a year and a half/two years ago, that’s when we really started putting the investment into it.” Brinegar was also happy to add that “about 20% of our revenue is interactive now and I’m very heavily involved in it.”

But just because he’s on board with the interactive advertising revolution doesn’t mean Brinegar’s given up faith in the traditional side. “I’ve certainly read more than my share of interactive agency CEOs talking about how they believe the interactive agency is the agency of the future,” he explains. “[But] we actually believe something very different— which is that interactive is a very powerful tool that’s roughly in the same place in evolution as television was 50 years ago. If people had set up television departments instead of figuring out how to add that to their tool kit, we’d have a very different world today.

“Anybody coming into the business today has got to master interactive,” Brinegar continues. “So instead of creating a separate unit, we hired seven or eight experts and seated them into our existing departments so everybody—whether it’s a media person, whether it’s an account person, whether it’s a creative person—they’re all becoming versed in the tool. It’s been rapidly embraced as just another way to get out there.”

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