R.I.P. McClain Finlon

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When you enter the doors at 2340 Blake Street, you are met by a large wall of exposed brick and a vaulted, glass-capped ceiling where the morning sun, at certain times of the year, hits you squarely in the eye. On that large wall of exposed brick is a massive framed photograph shot by the German filmmaker Wim Wenders. The photograph is of a desolate mountain graveyard. Stark and foreboding in size, the message, it seems, is this: Death is large and unavoidable.

McClain Finlon died yesterday. And we are mourning the loss.

We worked there once. Many of you did, too. The agency lived for 26 years. And it was kept alive all those years by a lot of people now running other agencies in town.

The exact cause of death is not completely clear. We were led to believe earlier this summer that agency president Paul Leroue would be purchasing McClain as Cathey Finlon transitioned out of the business. Apparently, it was not to be. Cathey herself commented here last night, saying the financing for the deal fell through. She is, understandably, ready to move on to the next phase of her career. Rebuilding in this economy would be daunting, if not impossible. We respect Cathey and the mark she made on the advertising and business community in this region. We wish her well.

Creative output at the agency waxed and waned over the years. It’s no secret that in the recent past McClain was buried by Qwest. Qwest allowed for unprecedented growth, making McClain the fastest growing agency in the U.S. in 2006 according to Adweek. It also crippled the agency creatively. When the account moved to draftFCB, Chicago, in December of last year, it left a gaping financial hole and a portfolio of so-so work. That’s not to discount the efforts of the people at McClain. We know they gave the good fight and there were occasional glimmers of hope. But Qwest, as evidenced by the “Get in the Loop” shit sack out there today, gets what they deserve.

In her post, Cathey stated that McClain Finlon will continue on as a small consultancy practice. We don’t know exactly what that means, but we speculate it is a transitional operation as the company closes.

So as the McClain Finlon we know prepares for its final week of operation, we think of the photograph of the graveyard. We imagine it served as a grim omen to those left at McClain in the final months. But we also imagine the sun still shines through the glass overhead. And where there is light there is hope.


A real shame. As a former employee this is hard to see given what once could have been if things on Qwest went a different way.

Here’s the Denver Post article.

We should all be so lucky to have an obituary this well written.

I have the best memories from that place and certainly some of my best friends were the kids I worked with there. So much talent. So much fun. That’s the McClain Finlon I remember. Sad news.

It stinks that there couldn’t be some way to keep the group together…I am sure all the good folks over there will land on their feet, even if this isn’t what anyone wanted. Chin up, y’all.

I think your piece says it perfectly – thank you for that. As a former employee, I can say that we will all take away the friends, the memories and the great times we shared there.

Lots of memories up in that mug. The Cannon Rider, the infamous plastic ball getting stuck in the light; the ‘Never Bring a Knife to Gunfight’ marker comp; the bouncy ball attacks; moving offices every 3 months; the growing phone list; the dwindling phone list; Friday morning breakfast burritos; Old Ninja Mutual; the Flying Dog doggie cam (what a disaster); getting our ping pong privileges revoked; the Account Services Huddle changing its name to the Account Management Huddle; the last round of holiday videos; Qwest pitch #1; Qwest pitch #2; Qwest pitch #3; McQuick; Opening Day; the Hub; the Bike Pod; ALL the dogs and ALL the blood, sweat and tears. Take care everyone. We are all officially OOTO.

A very well-written memorial. I never worked there myself, but I knew many who did, and do for the time being. I always heard mixed reviews of the place, so in that respect it wasn’t unique I guess.

But one of the first things I noticed upon moving to Denver and getting involved in the advertising community was the level of respect others here had for McClain Finlon. Not the begrudging respect sometimes given to those we despise but must answer to, but genuine admiration for what the agency had done and continued to try to do for advertising in this town.

A sad day indeed, but with each death comes a chance for rebirth.

This is a great article. I’m with all of the above when I say I had a great time working there. There are so many fond memories and great friends made.

I figured this all came upon them because the McClain Finlon logo was so silly looking (note sarcasm, but it is a funny looking logo).

It’s rough for Denver to lose such a big shop. But as the economy continues to suck, companies tend to eliminate marketing/advertising/pr from their budgets, especially as this is the time people are working on 2009 budgets. Hopefully this will be the last big shop to shut down…

One of the few places I’ve been where I was working with friends rather than co-workers. Glad to be apart of the fun.

The HUB is a little more lonely these days…

Garrison-Lontine, Tracy-Locke Denver. EvansGroup. Agencies come and go here in Denver. If things would never end badly, they would then never end. The Qwest situation should never eclipse the wonderful run McClain Finlon has put together. Their amazing growth and strength shows future shops that larger accounts can be wrangled in. The potential is there, and a new wave of agencies are paving the way (sorry for all the cliches) for our fair city.

Speaking of Qwest, a lot of bitterness over their defection from Denver to Chicago. But the reality is, what defection?
As Cathey McClain Finlon once commented about Frontier Airlines, homegrown clients owe us nothing. She’s right. I see people commenting on Qdoba and they owe us jack. But just as Colorado clients depart, non-Colorado clients can arrive. Audi and North Face at Factory. Pizza Inn at TDA. Look at Sterling Rice’s client list. It goes on like that. Sorry for the sermon.

Echoing everyone else, the best of luck to all the warm people from McClain Finlon. Just as other agencies rise from the ashes, you will too.

I saw it coming months ago, but was hoping for the best. They went the same way as Thomas & Perkins did, trying to hold on but just finding it impossible. It’s a real shame, I hope there’s enough work in town to keep the casualties afloat.

I’ll echo the thoughts and say it’s a shame, but to blame “the economic climate” when agencies like TDA are scooping up clients left and right, doesn’t that seem like a lame excuse to anyone else?

Like Fallon in Minneapolis (or perhaps Bozell before it) and Hal Riney in San Francisco, McClain Finlon gave birth to what I believe is the next generation of brand communication in Denver. Among its alumni, you will find the founders and partners of agencies like Cactus, Factory, CCT, MightyKarma and my intrepid shop, Pure. The market owes MFA a debt of gratitude.

Best of luck to Cathey as she writes the next chapter in her life.

I never worked there, and I don’t really know anyone that does/did. Still, it’s sad to hear.

Good luck, everyone.

MF Peeps. What great fun we had working with you. Y’all are some of the brightest people I know. Safe landing. (Oh, and we’re hiring an interactive designer. Egotist, tell me where to send the check.)

Though I won’t miss the standing ovations or the awkward mass introduction, the place has so many good memories and has seen some of the greatest employees in this town. I poor my 40 for you, MFA.

And best of luck to all who find themselves victim of this blow.

never worked there, don’t know anyone who did, but it’s always sad when a good shop goes under. especially considering how many bad ones are still afloat.

In April ’94 I was getting ready to graduate and managed to get my first informational interview at McClain with Tom Larson and George Stadnik, who were busy but took time to give me their two cents on the game and how I could become a writer. (One of the first big pieces of advice was never show up to an info. interview with a creative dept. wearing your blue interview suit, white shirt, and red power tie.) They were class acts, and the agency screamed class. I left dejected, because they point-blank told me how far I had to go. I also left fired up as hell, ready to start down that long road. Thanks. Good luck everybody.

As someone who worked at McClain Finlon this news makes me very sad. I agree with Mark, it was like working with friends. A bunch of really smart, funny and hardworking friends. I have missed the people since I left and hope that all land safely and softly. Looking forward to the next time we will work together…

funny to hear about all the good times people had there. because even though i never worked there, everyone i’ve known who did was completely miserable.

I’m proud to have worked for McClain Finlon for over 5 years. We consistently did great work, made our clients successful by always being committed to results and were dedicated to pro bono work that was not only creatively interesting, but that also helped the community in various ways.

It is an end of an era but one everyone should be proud of. So many wonderful individuals did amazing work and contributed to the legacy of a great organization. Thanks to all.

That’s too bad. They did some nice work for me back in ’96.

I’m hiring web application developers if any recently-unemployed folks are interested.


I feel for the people and this is a big love fest but let’s not forget they put their staff in a dangerous position, they had one client. They didn’t do very good work. And thy never embraced the web. It was a place to work, not a great place to work.

MFA was part of my life since 1998, some of my best friends and best memories were with these talented people. I wish you all the best.

I was lucky enough to work for Thomas & Perkins and McClain Finlon (long freelance gig) in their Camelot years. Both were full of with fun, creative hard working people who cared about doing good work. I’m sure all will land in the places they’re meant to be.

It saddens me to see a once great agency brought down by the likes of Qwest. As a client they were among the worst I have ever been exposed to. And as they squandered opportunity after opportunity, they finally got what they had, in some ways, always been asking for. The worst work in their category – the “Get in the Loop” shit. The only justice would be if Qwest’s continued bad judgment actually brought their company down too. One can only hope.

I’m never happy when people are out of work, but book me a seat on the McClain-was-a-miserable-place-to-work train. My worst job ever.

Agreed. That “Get in the loop” junk is as pedestrian and patronizing as it gets. Gives crappy advertising a bad name. I’d rather eat my own steaming turds than work on that account.

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