The Mad Men and Women of McMillan: A creative angle for export success

The Mad Men and Women of McMillan: A creative angle for export success

You can tell McMillan isn’t your average business-to-business (B2B) agency just by peeking through the door.

Inspired by the style in the Mad Men era of advertising, McMillan went through a robust transition a few years ago when they transformed their offices into a headquarters as stimulating to the senses as it is to creative inspiration.

I’m fairly certain your workplace doesn’t include the Dawson Parlour or the Wilde Room (named for Oscar Wilde).

Perhaps your office does have a panic room but at McMillan, The Panic Room is for brainstorming.

“We are proud of the space we have created,” says McMillan president Rob Hyams. “We have a lot of people at the agency who appreciate design, so I do believe that having an enjoyable and visually resolved work environment helps to attract and retain talented people. Also, when our clients come to Ottawa, we want to affirm their decision to work with us, and part of that is having an office environment that is world-class.”

World-class in world-class time

Founded in 1996 by Gordon McMillan, within the first few years McMillan quickly landed accounts with Microsoft and Cognos as well as several other clients in the booming high-tech industry.

Deepening relationships with Getty Images, American Greetings, Canada Post and the Canadian Medical Association in the mid-to-late 2000s helped solidify McMillan as one of Canada’s premiere advertising agencies.

Happy birthday to you

On May 1, 2016, McMillan celebrated twenty years in business by re-branding and blowing out the candles on their consumer-based accounts to focus exclusively on B2B, where McMillan feels their creative background gives them the edge in an area where branding has historically been somewhat predictable.

“This had been in the works for a while,” says Hyams. “We realized a number of years ago that specialization was the future. Clients were becoming less interested in production work, or work that is easily and cheaply outsourced, and were increasingly looking for insightful, creative, big-ideas consultation. So, we shifted our strategy to work with CMO’s and narrowed down our service offering, focusing solely on winning business-to-business accounts.”

Making the shift from B2C to B2B had a dramatic effect on McMillan’s portfolio, shrinking it to less than ten key clients. “It was very liberating,” admits Hyams. “We have a very focused business development strategy that is targeted on certain industries and companies so, rather than using the shot-gun approach, we can market ourselves in the same way we would recommend to our clients.”

Listening to their own advice worked. McMillan has almost doubled in size and revenue since deciding to make the transition to a creative B2B agency.

Always international

McMillan began life with much of their client base outside of Canada and still thrive on the other side of the Canadian border. Just over 90 per cent of McMillan’s revenue last year was from the United States and Europe and they consistently compete with the world’s largest branding agencies such as Metadesign, Interbrand and Lippincott for massive contracts.

Being a global brand was something Gordon McMillan wanted from the very beginning. That ambition began in New York City when he was working on campaigns for Xerox and Mercedes Benz before returning to his native Canada to start his own company in the mid-90s.

Their first export was a contract for clip-art with Microsoft and, while not part of their core business, it supported McMillan’s growth into a solid creative agency. The big break was when they were contacted by a marketing consultancy with offices in the Bay Area about working with one of its larger clients, Oracle.

“After a few months, that marketing unit was dissolved and those people went to other companies in the Bay area and they brought us with them,” says Hyams. “We just grew from there.”

Get more exporting insights from McMillan’s Rob Hyams here.

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