McCann's creative leader on the agency, his personal battles—and why he doesn't blame Droga for selling

By July 11, 2019Advertising

In an industry teeming with Negative Nancies, Rob Reilly, global creative chairman for McCann Worldgroup, is a perpetual, almost evangelical optimist. 

But he wasn’t always: After one particularly successful year at his previous gig as global chief creative officer at Crispin, Porter & Bogusky, his boss, then-CEO Andrew Keller, mandated he take a year’s worth of classes to learn how to be more respectful of others. 

“What’s the problem, are we out of champagne? We just won interactive agency of the year,” Reilly remembers saying. “Do you want us to be the greatest agency or for me to be a nice guy?”

Keller wanted both. 

“When you’re an asshole you don’t even know you’re an asshole,” Reilly says on the “Ad Lib” podcast.

He joins us in the midst of an impressive run. Last month, he and his team picked up network of the year at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity for the first time in the agency’s history. This on the heels of the success McCann had with the “Fearless Girl” campaign in 2017.  

Reilly credits the work he did on himself while still at Crispin with his successes today. “I promise you I wouldn’t have this job without it,” he says. 

And yet, being on top can be a somewhat scary place to be, it turns out. 

“What worries me is that people are tired,” he says. “You gotta find that next gear. You gotta find that delusional positivity—a Crispin phrase—you gotta find it and believe you can be there next year. The reality is that it’s harder and harder to do.”

Reilly is a self-styled “charming provocateur,” he says. “No one wants that asshole creative director anymore. Not even your own people. They will find a way to get you, so you have to charm them with passion, intelligence and caring more about their brand than they do. Then you can show them the provocative idea.”

Listen in for a wide-ranging conversation that covers topics from optimism to talent to why the acquisition of creative agency Droga5 by Accenture, a consultancy, is a good thing for the industry. 

“Anyone who works in our business and doesn’t think that’s awesome is crazy,” he says, because it shows companies are still betting on the power of creativity.

Reilly also gets a little personal and explains how developing an eating disorder in his early 20s informs his thinking today. 

“It’s still something I struggle with every day,” he says. “It’s helped me realize you can have flaws and still be successful.” It has also, he adds, helped keep his work grounded in an image-obsessed industry. “I feel some obligation to talk about it and not be ashamed of it.”

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