Meet The MD
An 'almost TikTok-er' and being pals with Katy Perry & Snoop Dogg: McCann London's new MD
Celebrating seven years at McCann London - Tommy Smith talks about some of his proudest moments
11 September 2023
Tommy Smith is a business major who stumbled into advertising. His first taste of advertising was during summer holidays as a student, when he was making tea at ad agencies and production companies and was eventually lured into the creative industry's "energy and liveliness." An (almost) TikTok influencer, he took to the Tok as a trial and now has a fan following of more than 50,000.
Smith was promoted to the role of managing director at McCann London in June this year, after almost six and a half years at the agency. He shares his secrets for creating and cementing solid relationships with clients; delivering populist, award-winning work; and why he is super proud of the agency's work with Just Eat and Wimbledon.
As the new MD, he places heavy emphasis on the importance of diversity of thought and ensuring talent from different avenues comes together to create great work.
We speak to him about the best and most challenging things about working at McCann London, his biggest sources of inspiration, and celebrities in advertising.
CS: You’re a rising star on TikTok. Would you say this counts as an unfulfilled ambition?
Tommy: It’s true. I’m slowly but surely becoming a certified TikTok influencer
I can’t promise the best cinematic experience of your life, but I can promise late-night drives and early-morning starts at The Bike Shed. Who knows what’s to follow, but I’m loving sharing my passion for motorbikes & engaging with a new audience. Am I ready to leave the day job? Hard no.
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I think that’s brilliant. Tommy tell us how you got into advertising and how did you know for sure you wanted a career in advertising?
It’s a cliché to say but like most people, I didn’t know what I wanted to do leaving University. The pressure of choosing your destiny based on a subject choice wasn't for me so I studied business to keep things open. During the summers I spent my time making tea at agencies, broadcasters, and production companies where I learned a lot about the industry. I quickly felt the energy and liveliness of this creative business and got hooked, simple as that.
You've been at McCann London for almost seven years now - working as an account director to now managing director. What's the best thing about working there?
Every year has felt different for me and that's the nub of it. Change is healthy, a sense of renewal is motivating, and not knowing what the year next might bring keeps me motivated.
There’s also such variety to our client make-up and an unexpected style to the work we create for our clients - for example from the music we create for Just Eat Takeaway to the healthcare research for Nurofen, the activations with content creators for Xbox to the product design for Smart Plants or Show Racism the Red Card, all of which is led by our legendary CCOs Rob and Lolly.
There’s no house style that you might see in other agencies.
What have been some of your biggest challenges?
Being an established agency name, you sometimes brush up against the classic perception of what other legacy agencies stand for. We tend not to consider them our competition.
We’re 150 people strong, making meaningful work for our clients, led by our guiding principle of ‘Truth Well Told’ since 1912, which is more relevant today than it’s ever been.
You've been in your new role for a few months now, could you tell us more about what being an MD involves? What are your responsibilities and what's your day-to-day like?
MD aka Director of Managing all the things.
You’re responsible for the business; the people who make the agency what it is, all the individuals behind our creative output, and the commerciality of all those connected elements.
You’re still leading clients whilst also running departments, owning the P&L whilst checking the fridges are stocked, upgrading the Sonos, and checking the fruit bowl is full.
I also get to work side by side with our fearless leader Polly McMorrow.
Do you get the liberty of picking and choosing the kinds of stuff you want to work on and delegating the rest?
The best thing about the role is the access to all corners of the business. It’s not about picking and choosing per se. I’m the connection point between the exec and the heart of the agency, which means I come to the leadership team with a different perspective on the agency’s future. Importantly, I still get invited to the pub by the wider crew (to pay obviously).
After learning about your day-to-day, what would you say is the most interesting part? What do you enjoy doing the most?
I enjoy being together the most, we are at our best when we're collaborating in our space IRL.
Nothing beats walking the floor and getting a feel for the temperature of the agency, department, and our clients. It’s fascinating as you get to see and feel things. It sounds obvious, but it's not done enough, especially when people move into leadership positions. Continuing to be present in the agency is key to mine and the people around me’s success.
You talked about working with brands at different scales requiring different outputs - Recently, the Wimbledon work was very well received. What is it like working with such iconic brands?
There is a big responsibility with all the brands we partner with and this is something we truly invest in. Some of the tenures here have been alive longer than me.
Wimbledon is of course special, it’s an institution in this country, adorned by all - whether you’re a die-hard tennis fan or just in it for the strawberries.
This years ‘Always Like Never Before’ creative looked to the future of The Championships while honouring its iconic history, contrasting the tradition of SW19 with a new era of players making their mark on the game. A definite fresh perspective for the brand.
Some of McCann London's work, like Katy Perry and Snoop Dogg for Just Eat Takeaway, Nick Knowles for Shreddies and TSB’s hilarious montage of David Schwimmer - all have been very celebrity-led. With the rise of conscious consumers, what are your thoughts about celebrity culture today?
Celebrity culture is bigger than ever, think Barbie, Taylor Swift, Beyoncé… to name a few.
As an agency that does make unashamedly big, populist work this stuff might sound frivolous but to us it matters. Consumers get what we do more than ever so it's never about celebrity for celebrity's sake - they’ll just see through it. It's about authentic collaborations and it's about making entertainment that people in the real world might actually resonate with vs advertising.
What would you say is your proudest work so far?
Being part of the team that landed and launched ‘Did Somebody Say’ for Just Eat now Just Eat Takeaway.
This piece of language is now synonymous with the brand thanks to the salient communication, distinctive assets, Snoop and Katy (yes on first name terms) and the heart and soul of the client and agency team behind it.
Ending on a question I personally am very curious about - What advice would you have for someone wanting to get into the industry and one day maybe become an agency MD?
When starting out it’s worth getting to know the different roles within agencies so that you can then position yourself against them. Get out there and meet people. Don’t be afraid to introduce yourself to agency leads directly (LinkedIn is a game changer).
Thinking ahead to the role of MD. As you develop and progress in your career make sure you’re getting access and experience at all levels. Big and small clients. Local and global. Client leadership as well as departmental management experience. Running the numbers as well as nurturing the talent around you. And breathe…
In a nutshell, be open, approachable, human and fair (that’s what ai told me to write).
Tommy Smith is the Managing Director at McCann London