Under Brad Brinegar’s tenure as chairman and CEO, McKinney has had one of the best new-business records in the advertising agency industry. Before coming to McKinney in 2002, Brinegar served as CEO of Leo Burnett USA, the world’s second largest advertising agency office.
EL: What is the importance and the role of innovation in today’s global economic environment?
Brinegar: Without innovation, competitors gravitate to what we like to call “the category blueprint,” where everyone delivers essentially the same solutions in the same way. When that happens, margins tend to erode, because you start to compete on price, and the cost to win customers from your competition goes up.
Of course, that also opens up the opportunity for a disruptive player to bring new solutions into the category, and that’s when you get back to creating value.
EL: What is the most difficult problem you and your team have solved?
Brinegar: There are two problems that we constantly face with innovation. Every time you create a major innovation, you introduce inefficiencies into how you work. When you build an organization to deliver a solution one way, and the innovation requires a different work process, it takes time to figure out how to turn out the best solution with the least resource.
The other is the challenge that we face in pricing. If the work required to produce a different kind of solution is radically different, it can take a year for the market to adjust to the change. So you can see a lot of profit walk out the door in the early stages of an innovation.
EL: What, if any, problem-solving or creativity tools do you use?
Brinegar: The software we rely on is what’s between the ears of our creative talents. But there are things we do to increase the odds of success in innovation.
We designed our entire space, from the ground up, for collaboration.
We invest twice the industry average in strategic resources, to make sure that our innovations are grounded in addressing the right business issues to create the results we want.
We work in cross-disciplinary brand-teams, to increase the odds that different perspectives will lead to fresh insight.
And we bring in lots of outside speakers to teach new perspectives.
EL: When teams are working on a problem or developing a product, and they hit a barrier, what do you recommend?
Brinegar: We recommend they go see a movie, read a book, go for a run, do something to let their minds operate in the background to sort out the issue. We also encourage them to grab a group of people who aren’t on their team, lay out the problem and let some fresh voices add new perspective.
EL: What are some of the obstacles that prevent teams from creating innovative products?
Brinegar: The biggest obstacle is “business as usual.” Things have to get done, existing businesses and relationships need to be maintained, everything looks great, so why rock the boat?
Another obstacle is knowledge. Sometimes you know too much to be able to look at a problem in a new way. That’s why we try to mix perspectives, bring in new voices and stir things up a bit when people hit the wall.
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