Close-Up: What makes Andy Nairn so effective?

After MCBD pretty much swept the board at this year's IPA Effectiveness Awards, Matt Williams caught up with Andy Nairn, the planning director largely responsible for the agency's success.

Andy Nairn is not one of those withdrawn, reclusive, "keep-at-arms-length" planning types. Far from it. MCBD's executive planning director, in fact, tends to be the source of most jokes, a chirpy and down-to-earth character who's more likely to be found sharing a beer with his department than causing them to shuffle nervously by when he's around.

And why not? Nairn is at the top of his game, with his recent efforts at MCBD culminating in a mightily impressive showing at this month's IPA Effectiveness Awards, in which he helped the agency pick up two golds, two silvers, the Grand Prix and the "Effectiveness Company of the Year" trophy.

Agencies are well aware of the kudos attached to these awards. Described by the convenor of the judges, David Golding, as "the leading global symbol of the genuine effectiveness of advertising", collecting even a single gold can mean a huge amount to an agency's planning department.

Nairn recalls being a grad at Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO in 1996, when it triumphed at the awards, and seeing then just how much of an impact it had on the agency. "It made me realise just how much I wanted to win one myself," he says.

AMV was Nairn's home for just under four years. At the agency, he enjoyed learning in what he describes as "the ultimate training ground in planning", and struck up a strong working relationship with a certain account manager called Helen Calcraft.

In 1997, he moved to Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R, at the time a relatively small agency in which Nairn would become one of its first few planners. There, he was given the opportunity to work closely with Mark Roalfe ("still one of my absolute favourite people in the industry") and, perhaps more importantly for a planner, MT Rainey. "MT taught me how creative planners can be," Nairn says. "She's one of the most inspiring people you can work for because she's not afraid to break all the rules."

Four years later, Nairn made a brief trip to San Francisco to work at Goodby Silverstein & Partners ("purely for lifestyle reasons"), before being enticed back by Calcraft to join the agency that she had started with Jeremy Miles, Paul Briginshaw and Malcolm Duffy.

Nairn says: "I've been lucky because I've never had to think too hard about my career choices. And it was a no-brainer when Helen came calling - she's a massive believer in planning, has a brilliant commercial and strategic brain, and is just great fun to be around."

Now in his eighth year at MCBD, Nairn has worked hard to build up a strong and agile planning department. "We're very fussy about who we hire," he says. "We look for that rare sort of planner who needs to be very creative but also can ally that creativity with a strong commercial focus. It's easy to get a planner who inspires great creative work but doesn't understand a client's business and it's easy to get a planner who has a great business head but doesn't understand creativity."

Vindication for this approach has come in a number of MCBD campaigns, from Hovis' Grand Prix-winning "as good as it's ever been" work to the "Essential" campaign for Waitrose, which won a gold. In both cases, the agency helped give the client a modern and British relevance in a testing market, producing eye-catching creative work as well as an uplift in sales.

Nairn puts this success partly down to the agency's strong relationships with its clients. "We have a great relationship with Jon Goldstone at Hovis, while, with Waitrose, we've grown up with them as they've transformed their business," he says. "Even with HM Revenue & Customs (which won an Effectiveness silver), we've worked with the same client team for almost a decade. That helps breed a sense of trust and a unity that results in the best work."

It's clear that Nairn not only enjoys working with certain clients but also has a great respect for them. And, indeed, it's this attribute that many see as the reason why they're able to produce such great work together. "Clients adore Andy," James Murphy, the Adam & Eve founding partner, says. "It's very easy for planners to be seen as bombastic in this industry, but he's not like that. Because of that, clients like and trust him."

Nairn has managed to strike an excellent relationship with Danny Brooke-Taylor, MCBD's creative director, too. Spend five minutes in their company and the chances are they'll have already resorted to joking around and mocking each other, but their connection and ability to work together so well proves a vital ingredient in helping to produce distinguished work.

"Danny is very strategic and has a huge interest in what goes on in people's minds," Nairn says. "He appreciates planning and I'd like to think I'm a planner that appreciates creativity, so our relationship works well. Too often I think that agencies have executive creative directors that want to be removed from it all and own all the magic, and that's not conducive for producing great work."

How all these relationships change following the impending merger between MCBD and its sister Cossette agency Dare (details are understood to be close to being finalised) remains to be seen. But if the new agency can facilitate the culture that Nairn and his MCBD colleagues have so far nurtured, then don't be surprised to see even more plaudits heading their way.


By Andy Nairn

The first and most important step towards winning an IPA trophy is to have an effectiveness culture in the first place.

Apart from anything else, this approach should make it easier to spot potential papers in advance. Be hard on yourself here - it's better to focus on a few really strong entries than to spread yourself over too many, weaker cases.

Assuming you do have a viable runner, it's time to get your client on board, as you'll need their help in getting the data together and releasing confidential information.

In my experience, enlisting some enthusiastic support here can make a massive difference.

Then familiarise yourself with the previous papers and the judging criteria - sorry if this is stating the bleeding obvious but, as a convenor of judges (in 2009), I remember being amazed by how many authors seemed to have skipped this basic step.

After all this, actually writing the paper should come easily. But don't forget this is a competitive exercise, where you'll be up against lots of other impressive case studies. You need to think of a compelling narrative theme - a clear story that will stand out from the pack, ideally with some new learnings that will be of interest to the industry as a whole.

Once you've got this story, keep honing it until every word is just right (having an objective editor can be really useful here). Then collapse in a heap and watch Peppa Pig.


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