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Scott McKay is a Toronto strategist, writer, creative director, patient manager, half-baked photographer and forcibly retired playwright.

This little site is designed to introduce him and his thoughts to the world. (Whether the world appreciates the intro is another matter.) If you'd like to chat, then you can guess what the boxes below are for.



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    "They had their cynical code worked out. The public are swine; advertising is the rattling of a stick inside a swill-bucket."

          – George Orwell






    "Advertising – a judicious mix of flattery and threats."

          – Northrop Frye






    "Chess is as an elaborate a waste of time as has ever been devised outside an advertising agency."

          – Raymond Chandler


    Entries in bad management (2)


    a hockey debacle offers two lessons for agency leaders

    Leafland is all agog over today’s firing of Leafs General Manager Brian Burke, who looked all but inviolate until the announcement was made. Whatever the real story turns out to be, the discussion has been fascinating, especially because it’s uncovered some similarities between the hockey word and the marketing world.

    1) When you hire, don’t hire based on perception.

    As friend of the blog mf37 wrote well before Burke was hired, when you actually looked at his track record, it was nowhere near as great as most people (including me) believed. Look at the candidates without the rose-coloured glasses. Sure, their personality matters, but it’s no substitute for their decisions and their results. You’d think this was common sense, but the continuing popularity in Toronto of Burke’s “big personality” and “energy” shows that it’s not so common. Saviours rarely turn out to actually save you.

    The situation reminded me that marketing people, like hockey people, like to rely on deciding factors like perception and “cool” when hiring, especially creatives. They have a vague idea that a candidate comes from a hot shop (like Burke from Stanley Cup-winning Anaheim) and want to grab them. Few of us have the patience to try to discover the reality of the work. It never ends well.

    2) If you’re the boss and you have to fire someone, stand up and take the crap.

    At today’s presser, the board of MLSE, the ultimate decision makers in all this, were completely absent, preferring to hide behind their CEO and new GM – neither of whom were terribly convincing. (For instance, the CEO sighed continually during the radio interviews I heard.)

    Sports franchises feed on energy and hope – the energy of the players, as well as that of the fans and media. Unanswered questions about teams tend to fester, and lead to negativity. It’s completely foreseeable that media and fan negativity about the Leafs and their ownership will only grow during the season ahead – especially if the team loses a few games early on. The board’s lack of accountability will be an ongoing story.

    Agencies also feed on energy and hope. And when the decision maker doesn’t take responsibility, doesn’t stand up and say why a move has happened, people at an agency notice and remember. Yes, unanswered questions lead to speculation and rumour. But worse than that, you’re draining the reservoir of trust you have with staff. If you stand up and take the hostility toward your decision, you show people that you respect their feelings. That way, you’ve got a fighting chance of keeping some trust, or at least being able to restore it.

    MLSE reminds me of a senior agency person many years ago who didn’t stand up and tell his staff that a firing had happened. Instead, for whatever reason, he left it to the replacement person to make the announcement. The result was a permanent weakening of the senior person’s leadership, and how staff would work for him. When he himself left a year later, there was no mourning.

    Respect for your people is a sign of how much you respect yourself. 


    he's not a man, he's the marketing VP

    He hung around on the periphery until he saw his moment and got himself appointed head of the department, my boss. And I really wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt; people I admired said good things about him. But my time with him quickly said otherwise.

    He was the first person I heard use the phrase "flawless execution" and he parrotted it over and over again, never sharing any details about how we weren't already executing in such a way, or what he was going to ensure or enforce the brave new world of flawlessness. Repetition would simply lead to the thing popping into reality. For reality to act otherwise would deny the most important reality of all: that he was the boss.

    He was the first person I heard use the phrase "action plan" and he did so exactly like our friend Ratbert does in the above comic, which was the moment that I knew that Scott Adams was our Dickens.

    He would lash himself to the business jargon of the day and use it to keep him afloat not just in meetings, but worse, in a decreasing number of attempts to mimic actual human conversation. He was one of the two people I've met in this business who so desperately wanted to be a Very Important Marketer, who so focused on developing the patina of that ambition, that he'd hollowed himself completely and become a marketing exoskeleton. No human remained underneath the façade.

    He once spent several minutes critiquing some copy I'd written, at which point he said, "Now, I haven't actually read this, but –" and kept right on critiquing. There was no embarrassment, no shame, no recognition of how he had demeaned us both.

    He was Ratbert, VP of Marketing. And I worked for him. Until, mercifully, I didn't.