MacLean Checks In at PHD

Mar 14, 2007  •  Post A Comment

When Kevin MacLean first got a call about a job at PHD, his response was, “That sounds interesting, but I’m not a media guy.”
Despite that, Mr. MacLean joined PHD in January and is in charge of the agency’s Safeway supermarket account.
He remembers taking the call on the second floor of Hewlett-Packard’s offices in San Diego. He had stepped out of a meeting for a glass of water and ducked into a dark conference room to talk to a recruiter.
He said he was skeptical at first about the idea that PHD was looking for people who didn’t necessarily have a media background but could offer creative strategic thinking. But he was convinced after a meeting with Matt Seiler, PHD’s president.
Mr. MacLean’s background is mostly in financial services and technology. The fact that he hasn’t worked with a supermarket before doesn’t faze him.
“What you’re bringing to the table is just solid marketing strategy and an ability to take customer insight and translate that into actionable programs,” he said. “At the end of the day, it’s people. So long as you understand who those people are and what their needs are and identify what their issues are around a brand, or what turns them on about a brand, then you can have a conversation with them.”
Traditionally, supermarkets have been pretty conservative with their advertising, still using Wednesday newspaper ads, free-standing inserts on Sundays and TV spots listing sale items. But Mr. MacLean thinks supermarkets such as Safeway are poised to take advantage of new technology.
“Through their loyalty programs they get an incredible amount of data. Who knows more about you than your supermarket, with the exception of possibly your financial institution,” he asked.
“Think about how many brands just don’t have that granular information about their customer base. So if you can parse that and begin to put personas around those buckets of customers, you can actually have an actionable conversation with them.”
Safeway has already begun to craft e-mails to customers based on shopping behaviors and patterns and identifying its high-value shoppers. That’s leading to a shift in media use. “They’re looking for ways to become efficient in their communications, more targeted in their communications,” he said. “There’s a huge appetite for that.”
Mr. MacLean’s comfort level with new situations is partly explained by his background. He was born in Pittsburgh, then moved to Dallas, Canton, Ohio, Paris and Dublin because his father worked for IBM. (Before she married, his mother worked at NW Ayer doing research for Procter & Gamble, putting some marketing in his blood as well.)
“I’m a second-generation expat and sort of professional gypsy, which I learned from my parents,” he said. “When you have to go to a new school every three years, you learn to get along or you die. I think that the ability to be able to communicate and get along with people really across the socioeconomic [and] ethnic spectrum has been a great asset in life and is something that I love.”
At Trinity College in Dublin, he studied medieval and Renaissance English. “Clearly I was prepping myself for the business world, and of course the job offers were flooding in,” he joked.
There were two professions that interested him. One was a veterinarian, because he likes animals, but there was too much science involved. The other was a lawyer, because he liked to argue.
He attended law school at the Honorable Society of King’s Inns in Dublin, but found it incredibly dry. He then moved to the U.S. and worked on Wall Street, but found that dry, too.
He decided he wanted to spend time with more creative people and took an advertising job at Grey Direct. He moved to Grey Interactive and worked on the Dell account as it took orders for customized personal computers over the Web.
He took time off from advertising to work as an independent consultant on international projects including implementing a mobile data network in Saudi Arabia.
Before joining PHD, he worked at Modem Media, where he led the H-P account.
Continuing on the traveling theme, Mr. MacLean lives in San Francisco and his fiancé, a writer, lives in Los Angeles. They’re expecting their first child in July. “We got engaged in September. We were pregnant in October and we decided we’d delay the wedding and focus on having a baby,” he said. They expect to consolidate their households sometime around April.
Who Knew: Mr. MacLean had his first exposure to the advertising business at an early age while living in Dallas. A neighbor convinced his mother to bring him to a casting session for Play-Doh, which was looking for a kid to be its national face. He was about 4, but he remembers the room being like an aircraft hangar with hundreds of kids. The crowd was whittled down until there were three left standing.
“I remember being brought in to the producers and casting directors and the directors, and they asked me what I liked to do, and I said, ‘I like sticking crayons up my nose and pretending I’m a walrus.'” Then they asked him if he’d like to be on television and he said no. “My mother, of course, died because she was seeing my entire university education probably paid for. And that was my early brush with advertising.”


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