The McBeard Way
McBeard is more than *just* another line in our LinkedIn profiles. More than an agency. What is it about the "McBeard era" that sticks with us to this day?
“I still think about McBeard every week.”
Heather Sundell had been a copywriter at McBeard, and I hadn’t caught up with her in years.
“There’s something about that time that I just can’t shake.”
Her words surprised me, and yet, I understood. I feel the same.
McBeard was a social media agency. My agency. The name, a portmanteau of “the Mc and the Beard,” Alec McNayr (me) and Alan Beard. We were longtime friends and co-workers; smart and clever copywriters, sure, but we had no formal background in agency work.
The McBeard era really only existed for about five years, almost a decade ago. But McBeard isn’t just another line in peoples’ LinkedIn profiles. It’s something more.
Maybe it was the creative work. Maybe it was our remote working setup (before it was cool, or mandated!). Maybe it was the hoodies.
Only about *200 people* were ever a part of McBeard. Some came and went, sure, but many grew from their first job out of college to become true leaders in entertainment and advertising. It was an intense time of growth, learning, and creative expression. Meghan Myszkowski, now a Senior Director at Microsoft, once told me after her first month working with us, “No one steps on necks here.” She couldn’t believe it, but it was true. Kind camaraderie, and not internal competition, was the foundation for our success.
I’ve come to terms with the fact that McBeard was — IS — more than a company. It was acquired by Fullscreen in 2015, just five years after it was “two guys, co-freelancing,” but it was more than a business. It was a way of doing things. It was a way of treating each other. A way of treating clients as people, not corporations.
What made McBeard so special? What’s the magic that has kept it alive in the hearts and minds of so many, for so long?
McBeard was on a mission to become “the best social media agency in the world.” Not that unique today: hundreds of agencies have that mission now. But back in 2010, no one did it that way. Social media was an afterthought. Most people were still giving “social media” to their college interns.
Our singular focus made pitching simple. We just gave people a rundown of our “don’t do’s.”
“We don’t do websites or email or TV spots or billboard or banner ads or print ads or radio. There are many agencies who are incredible at those things. But if you want the best daily social media content and community management, then you have to go with us. It’s the only thing we do.”
At the time, every other agency put their best people — their most talented and well-paid — on “more profitable” projects like TV commercials or giant website builds. Not us. Every member of our team worked exclusively on social media.
And as social media rose in importance, there was LITERALLY no one else that could work at our scale and sophistication. Our best designers, strategists, and writers. Everyone was focused.
We were a magnifying glass harnessing the sun into one bright spot. Like Wired founding editor Kevin Kelly says, “Don’t try to be the best. Be the only.” For a time, we were the only.
Beyond “no neck-stepping,” our culture was built on trustworthiness. Not blind trust, mind you, but the idea that we should be worthy of each other’s trust. Only then could we, in turn, be worthy of our clients’ trust.
We had mantras like “trusted with little, trusted with much” (show you can handle your business, and you’ll get more responsibilities) and “trust over compliance” (we had almost no formal policies, and trusted people to act like motivated adults). Our expense policy was two questions: "Did you spend it to help the company?" and "Were you frugal?"
But the main way we engendered trust was our remote-first culture. From 2010 to 2015, we NEVER had an office, and even when we were acquired, we had a flexible space to which people COULD go, but never had to. We trusted people to run their own schedules and their own lives. We realized that people could want to be great AND not be micro-managed (the shock!). No one side-eyed a coworker for picking up their kids from school or heading out to a dentist appointment. Side-eye destroys trust (put that on my gravestone).
3. A CHANCE
Based on our (lack of) individual backgrounds, experience levels, industry connections, and credentials, we should have NEVER been successful.
Fullscreen acquired McBeard in 2015, even though no one had ever met our entire team. We had no offices to visit. I joked that Fullscreen had “acquired a stack of 150 Macbook Pros.” So in June 2015, our entire remote team showed up at the (swanky brand new) Fullscreen offices in Playa Vista. CEO George Strompolos asked our people, “Raise your hand if McBeard is the first agency you’ve ever worked at.” 95% of our crew raised their hands. I raised my hand. Alan did too.
We weren’t “agency guys.” Our team was full of beginners. Early careers. First jobs. But there’s something special when no one on your team has “made it” yet. There’s a hunger. A curiosity. No one is beholden to the status quo. We ignored “how we used to do it.” We were here to break the rules, forge new ground in a new field, and help our clients navigate massive change. The traditional rules didn’t apply. They couldn’t. We were explorers into the unknown. We were Doc Brown in Back the Future: “Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.”
One of our longtime leaders Lauren Dubinsky called her team an island of misfit toys. We were all misfits. Underrated and underestimated. But at McBeard, we had a chance to thrive.
Our entire company had a posture toward service. Toward each other, for clients. We DELIGHTED in helping. There was never a “not my problem” attitude. If someone had a question, you helped them until they found the answer, even if it took three or four wrong turns in the maze of our Dropbox files.
In 2013, our team had grown to 40 people, and we gathered for a quarterly “IRL” meeting, where we announced some hierarchy in the company, for the first time. Directors, managers, coordinators. A flat, autonomous organization instantly changed into a traditional leadership hierarchy in one meeting, and because of this, people felt uneasy.
In that meeting, I showed a photo of an Egyptian pyramid and said “You guys, this is a pyramid, and THIS IS NOT US. Pyramids were literally built by slaves. And if you think that you are here to serve your leaders blindly, you’re dead wrong.” I flipped the pyramid upside down. “The reality is that our posture here is that leaders – up and down our organization – are here to serve YOU. I am here to serve YOU. To clear the way for you. To ensure you have what you need to do the best work of your careers.”
That set the tone. A posture of service. Not of servitude. Of course, one presentation didn’t make this real. Many corporations say things like this and never deliver. But we let this metaphor open the door for hard conversations for years, and it became a value we all embodied.
Maybe you weren’t one of the lucky 200 people who received a McBeard staff hoodie in the 2010s.
But you can join us in the spirit of McBeard. You can! TODAY, whether you’re a founder or a manager or a freelancer, or recently unemployed and trying hard, you can:
Be focused on the one thing that you’re the greatest at
Truly trust others and treat them like adults
Give chances to people who might not yet deserve it (including yourself!)
Keep your eyes open for opportunities to serve people, in both the big and small things
That is The McBeard Way.
Thanks for reading. I truly hope you’re enjoying the journey and the honesty. How to be creative, how to reclaim your story, and also, the jokes. If you’re not already, will you consider: