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August 23, 2017 @ 12:00am

Wayne Harris, 6AM Marketing Owner and President

Wayne Harris began his career under the golden arches. After obtaining a marketing degree from the University of Illinois in Chicago, Harris started at McDonald’s as a manager trainee. He eventually worked his way up to the position of Director of Operations and Field Service for the Chicago region. While a member of the Chicago Co-op board, he was a part of the team that signed then-rookie Michael Jordan as a spokesperson. Along the way, he also became a franchise owner and, at one point, he owned 11 McDonald’s restaurants in the Madison area.


During his time as a McDonald’s franchisee, Harris served on the Operators National Advertising Advisory Board (OPNAD), where he headed up the Marketing Strategic Planning Group, which vetted and suggested the marketing and promotional campaigns for McDonald’s across the nation. One of his suggestions included buying the rights to put Power Ranger figurines in Happy Meals. He was also responsible for McDonald’s Teenie Beanie Baby deal, an idea thought up by his daughter during a trip to a Madison toy store.  

Harris and his family settled in Madison in 1990, where he operated his McDonald’s franchises until 2000. In 2001 the Governor asked him to run Forward Wisconsin (the State’s marketing arm) and serve in his Cabinet. In January 2004 he finally dedicated his career to marketing and advertising, thanks to a business opportunity to own an agency. 

“I was always supposed to work at an agency, but I ended up at McDonald’s. I never really got away from marketing though,” he said.

 

Q: What was one of the biggest takeaways from your time at McDonald’s?

A: I learned a lot of management skills while I was working at McDonald’s. I don’t walk in and say, “This is how we do this.” I hire brilliant people and I give them room to do their job. My biggest asset is I recognize talent and then I get out of the way.

 

Q: What is one of the most common misconceptions people have about advertising agencies?

A: I think the thing people don’t understand is it’s a field that’s changing daily. In the past, it was TV, radio, outdoor and print. That was marketing and none of it was measurable. Today, the majority of marketing is digital and it’s very measurable. There was a time when agencies weren’t held accountable for the results of a campaign. Today if a campaign doesn’t work, we are collecting data that allows us to pivot and correct. 

People used to think agencies are all about creating crazy or creative ads, but it’s much more scientific and analytical than people would dream.

 

Q: How important do you think influencer marketing is in the digital age?

I think a lot of marketing today is about influencers and it doesn’t have to be “the influencer.” We are all influenced by looking at ratings. When I book a hotel, I read the ratings on all of them, and pick the one with the least amount of negative reviews. It might be a great hotel, but if it’s in a bad area, that’s good to know. 

I think we’re all influencers. Some have a much broader audience, but there is a risk with tying your brand to an influencer. For example, with professional sports, your influencer can do something bad, and all of a sudden, you’re tied to that. There is a downside to it; you have to be very careful.

 

Q: What is your favorite part of a campaign?

I think the most important aspect is the joy of getting great results for our client. There is no bigger high than an excited and grateful client.

 

Q: You are incredibly involved in the greater Madison community. How important is community service to you?

To have the ability to give back feels really good. My mom died of cancer, so I get involved in the Ronald McDonald House and Gilda’s Club as a tribute to her, as a thank you. It’s important that if you are successful, you give back. I am also involved with the Keep Wisconsin WarmCool Fund. When I was a kid we didn’t have air conditioning and in the winter we had to keep the furnace on low. I know what it is like to not have heat or AC. I also help with the Children’s Museum. My kids loved that place and I want other kids to enjoy it.

 

Q: How does 6AM think differently?

I said this a long time ago to Bill Patton 6AM’s Executive Creative Director, “Your stuff makes my hands sweat and that is a great thing.” There is so much information out there so if we don’t separate our clients from their competitors, then we aren’t doing our job. It makes me nervous, but I love that we don’t think inside the box. That’s what it takes to get people to pay attention. It’s not about shouting loud, it’s about a different voice.

I think we are very successful as an agency because of the folks that work here. We have a very talented group of people that truly care about our clients and will do whatever it takes to help them be successful.

 

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