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McMann & Tate: Worst Ad Agency Ever

Johnny Molson

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During the era that brought us the greats like Ogilvy & Mather, Young & Rubicam, and Saatchi & Saatchi, was a mess of an ad agency called McMann & Tate.

Founded by Howard McMann, the firm headed up accounts like United Cosmetics, Morton Milk, Wolfe Bros. Department Store, and the controversial Rocklin for Mayor campaign in 1967.  McMann hired Lawrence Tate shortly after World War II and elevated him to partner.

The work they did was formulaic at best, and the average client stayed with the firm for under 30 months.  But there was always a new account in the wings, thanks in part to Tate’s ability to glad-hand and schmooze. 

Howard McMann once said of his partner, “He’s slippery, he lies beautifully, and he has a great head of hair.”  Legend has it, Tate once told a subordinate “If the client loves it, I love it! If the client hates it, I hate it!” 

Larry Tate was the worst kind of advertising consultant.

If you’re over 55, you know Tate first hand.  If you’re over 40 and were nursed on syndicated TV in the 70s and 80s, you know Tate as the wormy, fictional boss of Darrin Stephens on Bewitched.

It’s that one quote that gets me: “If the client loves it, I love it! If the client hates it, I hate it!”

As a business owner, you can’t see your business as it is.  You can’t unknow what you already know.

You have blind-spots, and I have blind-spots.  Don’t say you don’t…there’s a reason they’re called BLIND-spots.

The ad industry is rife with Larry Tates.  You want it blue?  We’ll make it blue!  You want it sideways?  Yessir.  Sideways it is!  You want the whole thing written in Esperanto?  Brilliant Mr. Business Owner.  Esperanto comin’ right up!!

Sycophants, flunkies, apple-polishers, and toadies like Larry Tate are seductive because they make us feel immediately brilliant.  Every word that comes out of our mouths is immediately gold-plated and hung in a museum.

Advertising is a tricky business.  We all consume advertising, so we all have an opinion about advertising. 

“I like that ad.” 

“My college friend said my ad is stupid.”

“Let’s put in just one more thing.” 

“Remember that ‘Got Milk’ slogan…?  What if we said ‘Got Mufflers’?” (Don’t laugh…I actually had to field that question once)

Find yourself an advisor who will challenge you.  The person advising you should:

  1. Help keep you focused.  Small business entrepreneurs are easily distracted and you have to stay on course.  Make your ad person promise that if you ever say “let’s try something different,” he’ll rap your knuckles.
  2. Analyze ads in the marketplace.  Whether your ad is online, on a billboard, or on TV, your advisor must make sure your ad is notably different than the ones before and after it.
  3. Challenge your bias.  We all come to the table with our own personal preferences.  It can be hard to set that aside.  Remember:  Your ad isn’t there to entertain you.  It’s there to make your company money.
  4. Disagree once in a while.  If you get the feeling your advisor is nodding yes to anything that comes out of your mouth, you probably have yourself a Larry Tate.
  5. Tell you when you’ve spent enough.  There’s a point of diminishing returns.  You have a trusted advisor if they tell you to hang onto your money unless you can make a real impact.

Your ad person isn’t always right, but there’s also a benefit to having a “team of rivals,” as President Lincoln was said to have.  Look for opposing viewpoints to test your theories and preferences.

My partners and I at Wizard of Ads have an unorthodox approach when we consult businesses.  Our income only grows if your income grows.  If you go up, we go up.  If you slide backward, so do our paychecks (yes, even if an Act of God like a global pandemic happens).

The traditional ad agency model simply takes a percentage of the amount of advertising they buy on your behalf.  If McMann and Tate want a raise, they simply spend more of your money.


This isn’t a pitch to sell my services.  I simply implore you to find a good advisor.  The closer they are to your inner-circle, the harder it is for them to see your business as it is. 

You don’t need a buddy.  You need a Sherpa.

If you put your life in the hands of Larry Tate, he will surely drive you off a cliff (and you probably told him to do it).

Johnny Molson

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