For this week’s company spotlight, we spoke to Brendan McKenna, Senior Vice President, Executive Creative Director at Hawkeye, a Publicis company.
How was your company born and where are you based?
Hawkeye is actually an amalgam of multiple agencies over the years that have since consolidated inside of Publicis. Each agency brought something unique to the table, with the common thread between them being a comprehensive understanding of CRM. We’re based across five cities in the U.S, with additional teams in London, Dublin, and Bangalore.
What was the biggest challenge to the growth of your company?
As with most agencies, our business correlates to the performance of our tentpole clients. Their budgets are our forecasts – so when we see softness in the economy like in 2009, 2020 and even now, we further optimize and streamline our approach to emphasize performance marketing.
Also during the Great Resignation of 2021-2022, we saw a lot of our key clients change jobs. These were people we’d worked really hard to nurture and were huge advocates for our work, so starting that process over is a challenge.
What was the first huge success you can remember?
Eleven years ago, we won the Google account, which has been transformative for us as a company. We’ve since worked on over 50 lines of business at Google and been fortunate enough to help launch key products and CRM programs for the brand. But honestly, I can barely remember that pitch as I had a 102-degree fever as I presented the work. But somehow I stayed vertical, the team nailed the pitch, and the rest is history.
What’s the biggest opportunity for you and your company in the next year?
We are doubling down on the power of addressable relationships, and to better the bonds between people and brands we will further optimize the integration of data, platform delivery and dynamic creative. We are also closely watching AI and how it could speed up our workflows and help personalize creative at scale. AI art is already transforming how we concept.
Can you explain your team’s creative process? What makes it unique?
We are still a big idea agency. But we think not just about how to build an overarching brand, but how to personalize that brand experience at the individual level, which means our big ideas need to be dynamic enough to pivot across channels and across different need states for our consumers. All of this is in service of creating better relationships and customer lifetime value.
How does your team remain inspired and motivated?
For the creative department alone, we have over a dozen programs—from monthly newsletters to creative roundtables—that celebrate our work and the people that make it. I find it is more meaningful to give a platform to our people rather than to lecture to them. If you want to keep them motivated, they need to feel appreciated and know their work is making the difference.
How has COVID-19 affected your company?
Frankly it discombobulated our teams and pod structures, as geography was no longer an issue, and we reorganized around putting the best people on the most relevant projects. We were already a global company relying heavily on cloud workflows and video-conferencing, so the transition wasn’t too problematic. But remote work can be at the expense of culture so now we are trying a hybrid approach with in-office days that still accommodate for our remote employees.
Which agencies do you gain inspiration from? Do you have any heroes in the industry?
As a part of Publicis, we are fortunate to collaborate regularly with stalwarts like Leo Burnett and Razorfish, and each agency brings legendary CCOs to the table, like Anthony Yell at Razorfish who is leading some pioneering work in the metaverse.
What is one tip that you would give to other agencies looking to grow?
Most agencies are eventually acquired by larger entities—and that can accelerate growth and opportunity—but if you remain independent it’s easier to retain your culture and focus on your clients. My advice is not to underestimate the ramifications of mergers and acquisitions and weigh the pros and cons heavily. There is no right or wrong answer, but it warrants a lot of introspection before selling.
How do you go about finding new clients/business? (Pitching, work with retainers, etc.)
We have business development teams at the agency and Groupe level that receive RFPs from prospective clients as they are well-networked throughout the Fortune 500. But we also find opportunities through personal networks, referrals, marketing, and clients who changed companies and want to bring us with them.
What’s your one big hope for the future of the industry? I hope clients rediscover the benefits of retainer-based work. While it may seem cheaper to bid out projects, it requires agencies to constantly pitch work to retain staff, which means more non-billable time and overhead instead of focussing on a client’s business problems 100%. Retainers create the space and job security to do excellent work—which is what we are all here to do.
Do you have any websites, books or resources that you would recommend?
Of course, Creativepool and Communication Arts are fantastic sources of inspiration, as are the case study archives of the major shows. But there are also great digital archives of inspiration like Behance and Ads of the World that are great starting points for concepting. When I first got into the business, I read Hey Whipple, Squeeze This by Luke Sullivan and to this day it’s required reading for new hires and interns in our department.