20 Years of Jumpstarting Stalled Brands
The summer of 1997 was a hot one for advertising. Online banner ads were brand new, YouTube was experimenting with video promotions, and Mastercard was putting the final touches on its first “Priceless” commercial. And, award-winning agency McKee Wallwork + Company (MW+C) opened its doors in a small, sublet office across the parking lot from a Walmart.
Since then, MW+C has helped hundreds of brands navigate change while weathering immense transformation in its own industry. The past twenty years have witnessed 9/11, the Great Recession, the advent of social media, the digital revolution, and other creative disruptions that have changed the playing field not only for advertisers and their agencies, but for businesses of all kinds.
“When Pat Wallwork and I launched the agency, we had two Compaq Presario computers, a fax machine, and a rudimentary website,” said agency president Steve McKee. “We knew change was coming, but we had no idea the extent of the disruption we would face.”
One of those disruptions came after the terrorist attacks on 9/11, when MW+C experienced two years of drift. That ultimately led to McKee’s landmark book, When Growth Stalls, which leveraged the agency’s groundbreaking national research to identify the key factors that hinder organizational growth and is now published in four languages. The book outlines MW+C’s core philosophy and established the firm as a respected leader in brand transitions. It also helped MW+C become a player in the national advertising scene.
Over the course of its twenty years, the agency has attracted clients from throughout North America including Applegate Farms, Blinds.com, Bloomberg Tradebook, DaVita Medical Group, Fluidmaster, Gold’s Gym, Hammermill, Hyundai Construction Equipment, International Paper, Leading Real Estate Companies of the World, Lego Education, Mr. Rooter Plumbing, Tutor Doctor, and more. It has also partnered with iconic local brands such as Delta Dental, Dion’s, French Funerals and Cremations, Heritage Hotels & Resorts, Mark Pardo Salons, Presbyterian Healthcare Services, Taos Ski Valley, and Visit Albuquerque, among others.
And its work has gotten noticed. MW+C has made the Inc. 500 List of America’s Fastest-Growing Private Companies, has won two prestigious EFFIE Awards for Marketing Effectiveness from the American Marketing Association, was recognized by Advertising Age as Southwest Small Agency of the Year, won Advertising Age’s national B2B Campaign of the Year Award, and has been recognized as one of the nation’s best places to work in advertising. Yet in the minds of its staff, the agency is just getting started.
In May, Partner and Vice President Jonathan David Lewis published his first book, Brand vs Wild. A Millennial for whom the world of continuous disruption is the norm, Lewis is applying the agency’s proven principles to a new generation of challenges, for which “The Wild” is an apt metaphor. “When our clients come to us, they’re navigating some sort of wilderness—whether that’s a changing industry, a tepid economy, or evolving consumer expectations,” says Lewis. “Disruption is not only not going away, it’s picking up speed, and we have the tools to help them find their way.”
Creative Director Dave Ortega attributes the agency’s success to its ability to stay relevant. The firm has flourished through one tectonic shift after another, proving an impressive ability to maneuver. “In just the past few years, we’ve helped a lot of incredible companies get past a limited conception of branding as a logo and a tagline,” said Ortega, “finding exciting, innovative ways to communicate the essence of who they are.”
Beyond traditional advertising—for which the firm has won dozens of awards—MW+C has stolen the show at CES and the HOW Design Conference (two of the most notable trade shows in America), written and produced a full-length documentary, launched a technology startup, pioneered an innovative new approach to market research, developed a “4D” place-based branding process, and even created a new AI software platform for sales collateral generation. “That kind of thinking,” says Ortega, “is what clients in transition need today, and it’s our obligation to provide it.”
McKee, whose second book, Power Branding, was published this month in China, is sanguine about the future. “Ultimately, business is about relationships,” he says, “and that will never change. It’s been such a joy to work alongside incredible people during many transformational moments—good and bad. We have a world-class team here at MW+C and it’s exciting to consider that this agency’s best days are ahead of it.”