Charles ("Chick") C. McKinney, a legendary figure in advertising, died today at his home in Raleigh, North Carolina.
In 1968, he founded McKinney & Silver. Based then in Raleigh, the agency is today known as McKinney. The agency won countless awards for their creative work, surprising many at a time when great advertising was thought to be found solely on Madison Avenue. Now located in Durham, the agency is part of Paris-based Havas, the sixth largest communications group in the world.
"He was a very rare person in our business ... not only a brilliant creative but also a brilliant strategist," said Brad Brinegar, McKinney chairman and CEO. "There's a quote of Chick’s that I just love: ‘I don't mind being off the wall as long as we're not off the mark.’"
His first campaign was the introduction of MasterCard in the mid-Atlantic. Other clients included Piedmont Airlines, Royal Caribbean Cruise Line, Nations Bank (now Bank of America), Fannie Mae, Bahamas Ministry of Tourism, North Carolina Tourism, Bacardi, Norwegian Cruise Line, Clark Candy, Benihana of Tokyo and Carolina Power and Light.
The company attracted not only national clients but also international attention for their creative work. CAMPAIGN Magazine of London named McKinney & Silver one of the top ten creative agencies in America. GRAPHIS, a Swiss magazine, noted that the agency had "a huge and enthusiastic fan club of creative people all over the world who watch their work with envy as it rolls up award after award." Paris’ STRATEGIE Magazine said, "Their work looks like it has more money behind it than it does."
Closer to home, a headline in the NEW YORK TIMES read, "McKinney & Silver whisked a $100,000 creative award out from under the noses of the high-powered New York agencies yesterday." The award, the Stephen E. Kelly, is given annually to the nation’s best magazine campaign. McKinney & Silver won the coveted prize in 1987 for a series of ads for North Carolina Travel and Tourism. Later, McKinney was also recognized by the Wall Street Journal, who featured him in a campaign of some of the country’s top advertising creatives.
McKinney, called "Chick" by most that knew him, had an enduring aspiration to produce world-class creative work. McKinney staff who worked with him say he roamed the halls of the Creative Department every day, offering both counsel and criticism. He challenged and inspired the people around him to create engaging, attention-grabbing advertising that was unfailingly strategic. His aim was always to create advertising so memorable it didn’t have to be endlessly repeated to be remembered.
Chick was extraordinarily passionate about the pursuit of excellence, about taking pride in the work produced, and about gathering people who shared his passion for excellence. "He accomplished that not by making demands, but by inspiration and by setting a constant example," said his daughter Emmy McKinney, who worked at the agency as a copywriter during the Eighties. "His attention to detail remains legendary. In the agency’s first heyday, long before computers, no agency went through more Exacto knives or paid more attention to typography. Even writers paid attention. If a line ended with a hyphen, it had to be rewritten." Inducted into the Advertising Hall of Fame at the University of North Carolina’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication in 1989, McKinney was introduced by the late Watts Hill, Jr. of Chapel Hill as the only person he had ever known who was uniquely creative and also a great businessman.
When Chick retired from advertising in 1990, he developed a new passion. He and his wife, Suzanne Reeves McKinney, became engaged in the restoration of an historic property in Surry County, N.C., a 1930s mountain estate named Devotion. They restored, rebuilt and repaired facilities that included a dam, lake, fish hatchery, stable and cottages. The period look and integrity of the architecture were maintained faithfully and minutely throughout the project.
McKinney was a former member of the Board of Trustees of the North Carolina Symphony, Board of Visitors of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the Board of Visitors of the Kenan Flagler Business School at UNC. He was also a member of the Council of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, as well as various clubs. He was a member of Christ Church in Raleigh.
Born in 1931 in Newdale, N.C., to the late Evangeline Hall McKinney and Sherbert Day McKinney, he is survived by his wife Suzanne, his three children, Emmy, Ashley and Jason McKinney, a brother William McKinney and three grandchildren, Sayre and Lila Olson, and Martha Parrott. His stepsons and their wives, Jimbo and Elizabeth Parrott, and Josh and Hillary Parrott, also survive him.
In lieu of flowers, please consider a donation to the McKinney Scholarship Foundation, PO Box 6478, Raleigh NC 27628-6478. The foundation provides scholarships to students of Mitchell High School (Chick's alma mater) who might not otherwise be able to afford college.