Pursuing Innovation While Maintaining A Vision: Harris Diamond of McCann Worldgroup

It’s difficult to explain, especially within the limitations of a single article, to fully capture the success of McCann Worldgroup, a global marketing services organization, and it’s even more challenging to capture the vitality of its charismatic yet straightforward chairman and CEO, Harris Diamond. As for fully articulating just how powerful and long-lasting the legacy and deep-rooted values of the century-old company are or how effective its unique marketing strategies have been for such iconic clients as L’Oreal and Coca-Cola, it’s practically impossible.

McCann Worldgroup is of course physically expansive, currently employing 24,000 employees in over a hundred companies, with a unique integrated omni-platform, but also expansive in the types of products it produces: everything from interactive billboards with actual people for the promotion of a video game to a virtual reality school bus to simulate a day on Mars for schoolchildren. Perhaps what’s most striking is the breadth of the types of companies it works for. McCann created that now-famous and incredibly well-loved Fearless Girl statue, defiantly staring down the Raging Bull in the middle of New York’s busy streets, to promote the creation of a gender-diverse index fund; an equally well-known creation is that catchy YouTube jingle, “Dumb Ways to Die”, a media sensation that was actually created to promote train safety in Australia. Both are incredibly different types of products with different messages, but each had an extensive and powerful impact in its own respect.

How exactly does McCann maintain its status as a global marketing leader especially while representing such diverse interests? Mr. Diamond credits McCann’s strong legacy but also the quality and success of their products. Throughout a charged and engaging hour-long seminar, he was especially careful to stress the importance of succeeding in the aim of the work. “Dumb Ways to Die” may have been a fun social media tune, but it was intended to draw public awareness to a serious issue that led to several unnecessary and tragic mortalities. A billboard in the United Kingdom with real people that could be manipulated by British citizens from their computers might have been amusing, but did it achieve the aim of increasing video game sales? It’s important to consider not only the commercial or social success of the product, but whether or not it actually achieved the client’s desires and successfully improved the consumer’s life in some way, because ultimately that is what Mr. Diamond, and more broadly, McCann, are hired to do.

During a private interview, he reflected on a frequently mentioned consideration in advertising-related discussions, one that questions whether or not for-profit advertisement is contrary to maintaining authenticity and genuine human products: is marketing taking advantage of the consumer? Mr. Diamond, however, was incredibly quick to point out the falsity of assuming a mutually exclusive dichotomy, and in doing so, he helped highlight both his passion for the industry as well as McCann’s ultimate aim as a company. He explained that just as social movements have relied on people to be noticed, it’s exactly the same with a topic, a product, or an idea: “It has to make it through the clutter of noise that’s out there, and that’s what we do. At the end of the day, I think we do that very successfully”. He genuinely and passionately argued for the importance of good, quality products in people’s lives, frequently mentioning non-negotiable value, and insisted that marketing was necessary to make sure that these worthwhile products had a voice and were able to reach the clients, especially in an ever-increasingly busy environment that might otherwise mute their impact.

Mr. Diamond himself is extremely indicative of this sort of focus and clarity: of having a vision and knowing exactly how to execute it in an environment that might not always make it so easy. During his keynote speech during this first day of Business Today’s International Conference, every attendee listened in rapt attention as he commanded the stage with a strong presence, quick one-liners, and a clear vision of his role within McCann and the purpose of advertisement. Although he has made several career shifts, notably a several-year stint as a successful political consultant, both that and marketing required strategy, planning, and moving someone else’s point of view through creative appeal. He bluntly advised students to embrace a changing market place and the constant potential for change in one’s one career path; especially poignant was his advice to undergraduate students, to just focus on being worldly. One needs a strong sense of self and an understanding of the world in order to know where one stands in it, where to navigate from there, and most importantly, how.

Hearing such genuine and straightforward advice was refreshing, and not only because it rang so clearly with this year’s IC theme of redefining innovation; he had, after all, stressed that marketing is constantly emphasizing creativity and adapting to the new available social and technological environments to test out. It was also refreshing because Mr. Diamond was so evidently genuine in his advice to students to embrace this potential for change. This idea, that innovation is a constant cycle and an incredibly formative process if approached mindfully, is not just an idea but also perfectly reflective of his personal life path. Mr. Diamond and his evidently steadfast commitment to constant creative growth was the perfect way to kick off this year’s IC: full of vigor and an inspiring outlook on integrating a dedication to innovation in both the workplace and beyond.