A passion for branding: IABC Ottawa member profile of Stephen McGill

To many communicators, “branding” is one of those mystifying, often confusing areas that is mostly reserved for the creatives and designers.

But to IABC Ottawa member Stephen McGill, a company’s brand is like an investment fund that should build equity and value. A brand needs to be strategically constructed, carefully nurtured and continuously invested in.

“Building a strong brand is not a sometime thing, it’s an everyday thing,” says McGill. “More organizations should be embracing that.”

Stephen McGill is one of the founding partners of McGill Buckley, a marketing, branding and design agency. For close to 21 years, his company has helped companies and organizations across Canada build their brands with customers, donors and stakeholders.

What surprises him most is how few companies view their brands as a valuable asset to their organization. Instead, he says, many think their work is done when they launch a website or design a new logo.

“If your organization doesn’t have a strong brand it’s at a competitive disadvantage and in danger of becoming a commodity or irrelevant,” says McGill.

A chance to build a professional network

In addition to his work with McGill Buckley, Stephen has been involved with IABC Ottawa off and on since he finished studying advertising at Algonquin College in 1978.

When he first joined IABC he was looking to build his network, meet other people in the industry and keep up with clients, friends and co-workers who were also members.

Along the way McGill drifted in and out of the IABC Ottawa community. Volunteering with charitable and non-profit organizations – the Snowsuit Fund, Ottawa Community Loan Fund, Bruyère, Queensway Carleton Hospital, United Way, Special Olympics and the Dave Smith Centre to name a few – meant he had to back away from his time commitment to the organization.

But he also missed connecting with colleagues in the marketing communications space in Ottawa. So, when the opportunity for McGill Buckley to become a corporate sponsor of IABC Ottawa presented itself, he jumped at it.

“It was a no-brainer from a business standpoint and after talking to members of the IABC Ottawa board at the time I decided to become a member again,” says McGill. “It’s been great to be back.”

Passionate about branding

A curiosity about the world around him is what drives McGill’s passion for what he does, including branding. “Doing what I do for a living allows me to indulge a love of learning new things and exploring new ideas,” says Stephen. “Hard to believe sometimes that I get paid to do it.” Oh and being “a tad” competitive helps. Stephen McGill loves the exhilaration (and terror) of taking on creative challenges and solving strategic problems – particularly ones with which others are struggling.

“It’s been surprising to me how many of the re-branding projects we’ve been hired for are projects that have suffered from false starts or worse,” says McGill. “I particularly love embracing that kind of challenge.”

The people with whom he works also play a major role. His business partner of over 20 years, Nadine Buckley, is a constant source of inspiration, as are fellow volunteers, clients, suppliers and associates.

“There are inspiring people in every walk of life, you just have to keep your eyes open for them,” says McGill.

Here’s Stephen McGill’s advice for communicators who are hoping to build branding into their everyday work:

“There are some interesting programs out there including the full-time Brand Management program at Algonquin College, a bunch of online learning opportunities and scads of websites such as Brand Channel and Brand Strategy Insider. If that sort of thing isn’t for you, read whatever you can on branding. I’d recommend diving into books by Martin Lindstrom, Dr. Philip Kotler, Seth Godin, Malcolm Gladwell and Marty Neumeir.

David Aaker is considered by many as the father of modern branding and has written a bunch of great books on brand strategy.

A few years ago, I stumbled across the writing of Bernadette Jiwa from Australia. I’d highly recommend her books and bite-size blog posts if you want to learn more about brands and brand storytelling.

So, read as much as you can and talk to people who help build brands. I love to talk brands and branding. We should grab a coffee sometime.”

The future of branding

McGill says he’d love to see more senior executives take an interest in branding. To him branding deserves a place at senior levels of organizations such as in the C-suite and on boards.

Jeff Bezos at Amazon and Steve Jobs at Apple are great examples of pioneering executives who made branding a priority, says McGill.

“One of my favourite stories from this year was having one of our recent branding clients, the CEO of a national organization, tell me that they now include the brand perspective in virtually every important decision they make,” says McGill.

Advice for young communicators

One of the best moves a young communicator can take in building a reward career is getting involved with IABC Ottawa, says McGill.

He regularly recommends to the students he teaches part-time at Algonquin College that they should start building a network as soon as possible. Joining IABC Ottawa is one of the fastest ways to do that.

“Online networks are great and I’m pretty active on social media but there is no substitute for face-to-face connections,” says McGill. “IABC helps tremendously with building a real-world network.”

Another piece of advice? Don’t worry too much about your “personal” brand.

Stephen McGill says he would hesitate to hire anyone who spends too much time on personal branding at the expense of clients’ brands.

Instead, his advice is simple.

“Have a vision. Live a mission. Be different. Make a difference. Focus on delivering the most mesmerizing experience possible as well as tangible value to anyone who comes into contact with you,” says McGill. That’s how to quietly build a personal brand.

Connect with Stephen McGill! Follow him online at:

LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/in/stephenmcgill/

Twitter – https://twitter.com/Stephen_McGill

Interested in joining IABC Ottawa? Click here to learn more about the benefits of membership.