Interview: Scott McAfee of Sanders\Wingo

Multicultural Advertising is the niche that is not. Certainly there are a myriad of cultural insights, inclinations and morays to be understood and made plain. However, once you get involved in a Multicultural agency like Sanders\Wingo, that truly understands how the fabric of a culture can be woven seamlessly into corporate messaging, you have a rare and important future creature. One that in spite of its "niche," can be crafted to maximize any media or market. ECD Scott McAfee understands the proper amalgam of talent, hard work, & vision can overcome (dare I say powerfully liberate) what could seem to be the trap of very specific highly specialized advertising objectives.

There's a dirty unspoken mistruth in the advertising industry. One that is sometimes unspoken, and more often that you would expect, professed from rooftops boldly, arrogantly, and ignorantly. The fallacy goes something like this: "Multicultural advertising is inferior, It's not as 'good' as what general market agencies do." That line of thinking also goes on to say: "If you start there, you'll die there, and you'll never do any work of value."

Scott McAfee along with the Ad-heads at Sanders/Wingo challenge that myth. They bring to life relevant and engaging messages that I believe will put them ahead of the curve as America and corporations catch up with the new thinking and the cultural landslide of today. Scott McAfee is one of those players on deck who passionately throws himself into the fray of crafting messages that will lead the way of true multicultural advertising.
Read the entire interview after the jump.

How did you discover advertising? 
I graduated from design school in the late eighties. There were a few avenues for work — graphic design, illustration and advertising. I dabbled in all of them.

The more I learned about advertising and the more time I spent in ad agencies, the more fascinated I became. I loved the combinations of words, pictures, sound, music and film. And I liked the people — they were sort of misfits, which seemed like a good match.

I freelanced and worked on staff at a few agencies, and realized I wasn’t trained for the conceptual thinking required for truly great work. And the places that would hire me couldn’t teach me how to be as good as I wanted.

Someone turned me on to The One Show (1987 Annual). It was an incredible turning point. The book was full of the kind of work I wanted to do — that seemed a little beyond my grasp. So I dropped everything and enrolled in Portfolio Center, at which point my career really began.

How did you begin work in multicultural advertising?

"Mr Heart" Attack see below
I’d worked with multicultural agencies and consultants in the nineties at GSD&M, whenever we’d produce a broad-based campaign. But back then the process consisted of mainly incorporating surface-level cultural cues and trying to filter out any elements that might be inappropriate. There weren’t the kinds of deeper audience insights we’re used to now.

I met Bob Wingo and the Sanders\Wingo partners at the end of 2001, and I came on board the following year. The fact that Bob, Leslie and many of the senior staff were black, in an industry not known for immense diversity, was refreshing.

The Austin office was brand new, and we were test-driving different business models — based on our experience in bilingual, African American, health care, fashion and others areas — to see what worked best. We ultimately focused on the African American and urban positions, given our strengths and where the marketplace was going.

I was excited by it. It felt like a great fit for me personally. But it was also far enough outside my daily comfort zone to be a challenge. We just kept taking on opportunities, doing the best work we could and recruiting more and more great people.

Over time, the realities that not all of us within the agency are black — and that Austin isn’t a typical urban or AA capital — went from assumed liabilities to strengths and points of difference. We tried to take a more objective, well-rounded approach that avoided the ruts and clich├ęs that other agencies, even black agencies, fall into.

How is your ethnicity a source of inspiration or strength in your work? Or is it just sort of a default setting that has little bearing?
My upbringing has more influence than my ethnic heritage, which is Irish and Lebanese.

I was born in upstate New York and grew up in Florida in the seventies. There at that time schools were fully integrated, and I grew up surrounded by kids of various ethnicities and backgrounds. I couldn’t appreciate it at the time, but now I see how it helped me relate more closely with different types of people.

My high school was very diverse, with black kids, Puerto Rican kids, Cuban and quite a few whose families had come from Iran and Vietnam. Our school principal was black, as was our homecoming queen. It wasn’t perfect, but there was none of the racial tension I’d heard about in other places. Looking back, it was a terrific environment to grow up in.

I started my career in Atlanta and D.C., which I loved for their diversity among other qualities. Living in places with lots of black people doesn’t make you black, but I absorbed a lot of things intuitively that I take for granted — until I encounter people who haven’t spent as much time in different, more diverse places.

As ECD of a black agency, I realized I couldn’t maintain credibility by trying to “be” black. But I could connect with one of the great hallmarks of black culture — authenticity. I knew if I approached every day as the kid from a working class neighborhood, who came of age surrounded by black culture, I’d do fine. It’s also a lot of fun.

What aspect of your work do you really love? 

I love the window into different industries and different audiences that comes with each campaign assignment.

But my favorite thing is recruiting. One of my first creative directors, Bill Westbrook, once said in an interview, “My most important job is recruiting. If I recruit great people, great advertising will result.”

Bringing interesting, talented people into a nurturing environment is a joy. And given the advertising industry’s continued lack of diversity, it’s nice to be part of the future rather than the old paths of least resistance.

What's the most challenging part of what you do?
Getting the work just right is still the hardest and most important thing. But at this stage in my career, cultivating other creative leaders is critical. It’s also daunting.

People who can not only create great ideas, but also inspire enthusiasm for them — within the agency and with clients — are the ones I count on every day. And we’ve got some brilliant people here who do that.

ECDs can actually restrict the creative work and the process — without even knowing it. It’s more important for me to be a cheerleader for the great ideas rather than telling people why the other ones are mediocre.

I try to follow what David Kennedy said years ago: "Our secret has been to hire people better than we are and to get the hell out of their way."

What's your dream job?

I have to say, this is it.

Every day I show up to see fabulous ideas and great finished pieces. We’ve got two offices full of talented, gracious people. If I did anything else, it would just be trying to do the same thing we’re doing here now.

Also, I work with four other partners I trust and respect, in an independent company.

A lot of folks in our business put profit and glory first, and then wonder why they end up mired in politics and compromise. If you stick to what you believe in, with people you believe in, everything else will take care of itself.

Can you discuss any specifics about the process of creating a few of the pieces you sent?
One of our newer spots. It’s been a big hit. Insightful writing and again, great casting. Parodies are popping up on YouTube, along with a Facebook page with 95,000 fans.

AD: Greg Rogers; CW: Corey Seaton; CD: Tynesha Williams; GCD: Shanteka Sigers; Prod: Darryl Merchant; Director: Chris Robinson;
“28 Days” 
Black History is bigger than February — and as much about the future as the past. Few marketers had tapped into that idea, if any. 28 Days is about helping people create history, not just celebrate it. 

AD: Greg Rogers; CW: Corey Seaton; Design: Ericka Herod; CD: Tynesha Williams; GCD: Shanteka Sigers; Producer: Shannon Swenson

“To Each His Own” 
Not known as a terribly hip brand, we felt State Farm had as broad an emotional footprint as, say, Coca-Cola. There was huge opportunity to be fresh, stylish and more relevant. The campaign ran in online, TV, radio, print and the jumbotron during the NBA finals.

AD: Rob Story/Antoine Harris; CW: Dana Satterwhite; Design: Brad Maxfield; CDs: Dana Satterwhite, Rob Story; Producer: Kelly Wood; Studio: Eyeball
“Lift It” 
Coming up with a whole new approach to weight loss isn’t the easiest thing to do, but our planner put a lot of thought and passion into the brief, and the creative team found a fresh angle to bring it to life.

AD: Antoine Harris; CW: Carter Pagel; CDs Dana Satterwhite, Rob Story; Producer: Dorothy Taylor; Director: Henry-Alex Rubin

“Many Marys” 
Every car spot with a recording artist seems to default to the radical new idea of “making it look like a music video.” Shan and Ty had a deeper understanding of Mary’s identity, and wrote a script around her evolution as a performer and person. Judging from the effectiveness of the spot — and the hundreds of comments on YouTube — they struck a chord.

AD: Tynesha Williams; CW/CD: Shanteka Sigers; Producer: Seng Rimpakone; Director: Bryan Barber 
Chevy has positioned the vehicle for women, but then wanted to run spots on Monday Night Football and the World Series. So we needed an idea that was less women-oriented than the previous work, without defaulting to Bud Light humor. Cue the mythological creatures.

AD: Matt Crump; CW Justin Grady; CD: Sam Bonds; GCD: Shanteka Sigers; Producer: Serena Harrigan; Director: Sam Bayer

“Mr. Heart Attack” 
This was the first TV we did out of the Austin office. We had a great client and a great director. Everything came together. Out of hours of casting for the main character, Dan Zacapa was the only one even close. But he was perfect.

AD/CD: Scott McAfee; CW: Ravi Costa; Prod: Julie Faust; Dir: Danny J. Boyle; Edit: Tim Anderson; Sound: Mophonics

“V-Power Graffiti” 
One of our early campaigns. At the time, it made all our other stuff look like dreck — and helped shape where we wanted the agency and the creative product to go.

AD: Mari DiGiovanni; CW: Dana Satterwhite; Prod Co: AllTerrain Media 
Scott McAfee was ECD on all work shown.

Any advice for neophytes? Don’t worry about being “creative.” Focus on simple, human truths.

Thank you Scott, for your time and the inspiration!

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