Making McCann the best it can be - an interview with McCann’s chairman and CEO, Chris Macdonald
Posted on 2022 Aug,29  | By Iain Akerman

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McCann’s chairman and CEO, Chris Macdonald, on developing the capabilities clients are calling for.

It’s mid-afternoon and Chris Macdonald, the chairman and CEO of McCann, is enjoying his post-pandemic freedom. “You can imagine we’re all like, ‘ok, we’ll get back out there, go see people, talk to them about their business, talk to the clients, look at the work’,” he says. “I havent been in the Middle East for a while and its always good to connect to the market.”

On a short but important trip to Dubai, Macdonald, who took on the role of chairman and CEO in January last year, has been busy looking at brand platform work from around the region and discussing the ambition, mission and values of McCann”. Those values, which have recently been redefined, are courage, ambition and kindness.   

Weve just been through the most bizarre couple of years,” says Macdonald, the first CEO of the McCann network for a number of years. “Weve all faced a hell of a lot of challenges with talent, and our job is to ensure our culture is strong enough and that people believe in the culture of where they work, the leadership of who they work for, and the connectivity amongst their peer group.”

Previously global president of advertising and allied brands at parent company McCann Worldgroup, Macdonald has been tasked with ensuring that McCann “is the best possible advertising agency network it can be”. That means focussing on “making sure that McCann is modernising, delivering what clients want, delivering the best possible brand platforms, and driving the best possible efficiency and effectiveness”. It also means ensuring that the agency is the best possible partner for McCann Worldgroup.

“What we’re really doing is we’re thinking about what additional capabilities we add in and what things clients are looking for that either: (a) we’re not delivering as well as we should be; or (b) we’re not connecting centres of excellence,” says Macdonald, a former CEO of McCann London. “The reality of what were doing is about continuing to develop capabilities against client needs.”

One area of opportunity is the world of employer brand. In other words, how companies engage and create experiences for their employees. “Because that’s a natural evolution of what advertising agencies do, right?” says Macdonald. To this end, he is looking to scale up McCann Synergy, which was formed following the purchase of employee engagement agency Synergy Creative by McCann Worldgroup in the early days of the pandemic. The network is also looking to develop more in the entertainment space.


“What I’m trying to do – and what the team I’m building’s trying to do – is ensure that we’re taking the best of the regions – the best work and the best thinking and the best initiatives – and saying ‘hey, share them’.”


“If you go back in time, agencies used to do a lot of work in different forms of entertainment. So, how do we think of models of entertainment and the kind of spaces we should be involved with in terms of on-demand platforms, how we’re selling IP [intellectual property], and how we’re building brands there? If you use the platforms now in a way that is really smart, really targeted, and really creative, my God you can have really good impact. And it’s bloody immediate. I like the fact that we can now deliver significantly differentiating work – more creative ways in – to actually connect with audiences.”

Regionally, McCann is taking the best of FP7 McCann and showcasing it to the network. That work includes Jawwy’s fairness platform, which includes the Saudi pre-paid mobile telecom brand’s anarchic talkshow ‘The Fairness Show’. “There are a load of learnings that they’re going to get from it,” believes Macdonald. “What I’m trying to do – and what the team I’m building’s trying to do – is ensure that we’re taking the best of the regions – the best work and the best thinking and the best initiatives – and saying ‘hey, share them’.”

In a similar vein, McCann Paris’ ‘The Bread Exam’, which was created in collaboration with FP7 McCann, Weber Shandwick and McCann Health, provides valuable lessons on agency cooperation. “There’s so much learning about how we use different agencies to help each other amplify an idea,” says Macdonald. The Bread Exam won the PR grand prix at Cannes last year and FP7 McCann itself is no stranger to accolades.

In March, WARC named FP7 McCann Dubai the worlds most effective agency for the second year in a row, while McCann Worldgroup topped the network rankings for effectiveness.

In 2020, FP7 McCann Dubai was also declared the most effective agency globally by the Effie Index.

One effect of the pandemic and the closer relationship forged between clients and their agency partners was increased connectivity and speed. “A lot of clients want to keep that,” he admits. “You made decisions faster, you connected faster, you weren’t running around doing the same level of travel, so the connectivity and the speed were amazing. The other side of it is clients are increasingly asking for simplification. How do we simplify the approach, the process, how we work? And the kind of data points, the kind of tech, the kind of things they need: how do we get them in a simpler, more effective way?”