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CEO stresses emotion in advertising

Students hoping to break into the world of advertising learned some of the tricks of the trade Tuesday night.

Brad Brinegar, chair and CEO of McKinney, an independent advertising agency based in Durham, spoke to a group of students about his career as the second speaker of the Duke Marketing Club’s CEO Speaker Series. McKinney’s clients include Sherwin Williams, Nationwide Insurance and Nike.

After receiving his undergraduate degree in anthropology from Dartmouth and completing an MBA in finance at Columbia Graduate School of Business, Brinegar began his advertising career at the Leo Burnett USA agency in 1979. Twenty-one years later, Brinegar became the CEO.

In 2002, Brinegar moved to the Triangle to lead McKinney as CEO and chairman.

Brinegar said that when he was first offered the position of CEO, he declined and offered instead to buy the company—an offer that was denied. Brinegar said he joined the company anyway as McKinney was the right “Petri dish” in which to create an agency that would thrive in the digital world.

Senior Christine Hall, president of the Duke Marketing Club, said Brinegar was chosen to be part of the speaker series because of McKinney’s desire to create a greater partnership with Duke students looking to pursue a career in advertising.

“I loved hearing about how the landscape of the industry is changing,” said Hall, who is also The Chronicle’s creative services student manager. “It really is a crucial time for new grads to jump into the field.”

After showing an old “Got milk?” commercial, one of Brinegar’s “all-time favorite pieces of advertising,” he discussed how advertising is about more than just increasing business for clients.

“I don’t believe that creativity and business results live apart,” he said. “The only point of the thing we do is to [connect with our audience].”

In another video during the presentation, Brinegar described his company’s founding philosophy—successful advertising is all about emotional connection.

“’I’m not sure that I really care about what people think about my brand because I know that most of the decisions [consumers] make have nothing to do with thinking,” he said. “If you’re not catching people emotionally, you’re not going to catch them at all.”

Brinegar added that McKinney creates “an irrational attachment between people and brands.” This attachment is facilitated by advertisements, which lead consumers to favor one brand over the other in the marketplace setting. Most purchases come down to “why should I buy it from you,” he noted.

“The brands that dominate are brands that touch you and connect with you in ways that others don’t,” he said. “That’s why Nike is twice as big as Reebok, [but] they’re selling the same thing.”

Reinvention, Brinegar added, is also an essential component to McKinney’s success.

“Everyday [while] something is going well, a crisis is around the corner,” he said. “We’re constantly challenging the status quo.... We really believe there is a fundamental change going on everyday in our business. That’s what makes it so exciting.”

Brinegar concluded his presentation by commenting on the increasingly fast pace of technological advancement and the uncertain future of the advertising industry.

“I don’t know what the right move is for tomorrow.... We have to say ‘Let’s put 20 hooks in the water and see what happens,” he said. “I know that 19 of them are going to come back dry, but whatever comes back on that one hook is what’s going to propel us forward. “

Senior Anita Raheja, vice president and director of exposure of the Duke Marketing Club, said she appreciated hearing about Brinegar’s unconventional career path.

“[Brinegar] showed that if you want [a career in advertising] and that’s your goal, you can get to it in several ways,” she said. “He showed that a company is not comprised of just one type of person.”

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