McBeard to the Rescue
Clever content crusaders at McBeard Media are a close-knit family where nearly half of the employees are Pepperdine alumni.
Spider-Man and the X-Men overcame tough competition at the box office last spring thanks to the social media superheroes at McBeard Media. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and X-Men: Days of Future Past debuted at number one on their opening weekends, benefiting from inventive online publicity created by the Los Angeles-based social media marketing agency.
McBeard is the dynamic combination of Alan Beard (’94, MPP ’99) and Alec McNayr (’00), who formed the company in 2008 by merging not only their names, but also their talent, entrepreneurial spirit, and Pepperdine experience.
Since then, McBeard has produced more than 200 social media campaigns for well-known film and television brands like 20th Century Fox, Universal, Sony, Disney, ABC, and Warner Bros.
Their firm continues to expand, and currently includes 80 employees of which about half are Pepperdine alumni. Beard and McNayr are proud of McBeard’s supportive family environment despite having no corporate office. Everyone works from home.
How Beard and McNayr came to helm one of the most successful social media companies today is a quest directly linked to Pepperdine.
The story begins in 1997, years before McBeard was a thought.
Beard was a graduate student working full-time and McNayr was an active sophomore involved in campus groups. They met through Beard’s wife Sharon who knew McNayr because of her role then overseeing the student activities department.
“I had taught myself design and how to code and Sharon suggested I talk to her husband who worked in the Internet world,” McNayr recalls.
After that initial contact, the men saw each other occasionally over the years through their fraternity, Psi Upsilon (formerly Lambda Omega Sigma). The relationship bloomed during McNayr’s senior year when Beard became his mentor, hiring him after graduation at an Internet consulting firm. The men maintained their friendship and Pepperdine connection after moving on to other jobs. McNayr worked in Pepperdine’s university communications department, while Beard taught marketing on campus as an adjunct professor.
“What I recognized in Alec early on was that he was smart, super detail-oriented, and motivated by the same things that I am: love for his family, commitment to faith, a love for Pepperdine, and for social media,” Beard says.
McNayr is equally complimentary about his business partner.
“Alan is incredibly smart, insightful, a great writer, and the most well- read person I’ve met, with an incredible memory,” McNayr remarks. “He’s a great conversationalist, salesperson, and motivator.”
In 2008 both men were freelancing independently. McNayr had sold a comedy script to ABC. Beard was doing big-brand marketing strategy and copywriting. During a conversation, they devised a creative idea that launched their future in a bigger way than they ever imagined.
They wondered, “What if Twitter had always existed?” The result was Historical Tweets, a blog they created featuring clever tweets from historical figures.
The blog surged from a few hundred to three million visitors in one weekend. Random House took note and offered a book deal. Beard and McNayr discovered that a Nokia senior marketing executive was a fan.
At the executive’s invitation, Beard and McNayr flew to San Francisco and were hired to create a marketing plan for Nokia. The partners had their first client but no name for their budding joint venture. Their wives came up with the catchy McBeard moniker.
“Nokia gave us enough runway to get McBeard off the ground. From there we got one movie campaign which led to another,” Beard says. “The way these things happen, especially in Hollywood, is word of mouth.”
Their client list began to slowly build with major studio clients including Fox and Sony and while they specialized in entertainment, McBeard did not start off with that intention.
“There were uncertain times as we built our client base,” Beard comments. “We kept moving forward on the faith that the next client would come.”
Neither man recalls feeling fear.
“We believed in it, had supportive wives, and a desire to work on our own,” Beard continues. “We figured that the entrepreneurial thing is to believe there’s a market, go after it, and it will work out. That’s the leap of faith.”
Beard credits timing, anticipating a specific need, and discovering an untapped niche for the success of McBeard. One success in particular boosted the men’s confidence.
For the film Monsters University, McNayr and Beard were invited to Pixar’s Northern California office to pitch an idea for a university website to accompany the film. McNayr tapped into his years of experience in Pepperdine’s communications department where he helped build the University’s website.
“The Pixar people asked a lot of grilling questions and at the end of the two-hour meeting everybody stood up and applauded,” McNayr says. “It was a great creative experience at one of the most creative places on the planet.”
The result can be seen at the still-active monstersuniversity.com.
More work followed and as Beard and McNayr hired staff, they modeled their business culture
on the friendly, positive family atmosphere they had experienced at Pepperdine. In the early years, company meetings were held at Beard’s home or in restaurants. As employees were added, meetings shifted to Pepperdine’s Malibu campus.
“That tight-knit community, where people care and want success for each other, from the top of the administration to the teachers and students is the same attitude that exists at McBeard,” McNayr says.
Their Pepperdine connections enabled Beard and McNayr to find their ideal employees: self-starters, positive, hardworking, and driven, who cheer for coworkers.
“I know these people and what they’re all about and they know what I’m all about,” Beard says. “But if you had told me five years ago that we’d have 80 employees, I would’ve been shocked.”
First on board as an intern was Seaver College advertising major Darnell Brisco (’09). Brisco had met McNayr through mutual friends.
He met Beard, who managed Pepperdine’s a cappella student gospel group Won by One, when he joined as a student. Beard became a mentor to Brisco, who worked on Historical Tweets and was hired after graduation.
“We were a hungry three-man team wearing every hat imaginable: design, writing, business development, logistical planning, you name it, and figuring out how to fill a void for something that really didn’t exist at the time, a social media agency,” says Brisco who, as creative accounts director, now leads writers and designers in developing social media campaigns.
Kailey Howell (’09), a telecommunications production major, was hired next, after leaving her secure job in Pepperdine’s International Programs office, to join McBeard, still in its infancy.
“It was risky to move from a secure job at Pepperdine to a small startup—there was a good chance I could be unemployed six months later,” Howell says.
What attracted her to the agency was that she could wear many hats. Now, as a creative director, she oversees writing and design teams and works on new systems.
“It’s rare to have creative freedom and a boss that has your back even when you fail,” Howell
says. “That’s a testament to the types of people that Pepperdine cultivates and nurtures. Alan and Alec are standup guys—more like family to me than bosses.”
Kate (Pauley) Edwards (’12) also met Beard through Won by One, and interned at McBeard during her senior year. As creative accounts manager, Edwards now works with clients to craft an overall vision for campaigns.
“Sometimes I forget that I’m working because I’m enjoying it so much,” Edwards says.
Those Pepperdine hires recruited other alumni. McBeard also employs people not affiliated with Pepperdine, but who are drawn to the company as a result of what they learn about the culture McBeard imported from the University.
“They understand that there is something special about the bond we have at McBeard that you can’t find elsewhere,” Beard says.
That family atmosphere might seem difficult to maintain given the lack of a central location and continued growth of McBeard. Employees currently work in small teams that stay connected through video conferencing and instant messaging.
Continuing to create content that people love to share is McBeard’s goal.
“Our job as creators,” McNayr says, “is to know what makes people happy, what their desires and emotions are—to know what fans will share, not only because they love the brand, but also because they love the content you’ve given them.”
Beard and McNayr take pride in the relationships they maintain with clients. Their next step is to capture the tremendous social media opportunity that exists in international brands, McNayr says.
“We are laying down plans to make the right hires and changes in structure to grow to be the most influential creative shop,” McNayr says. “We have humble swagger.”
Although they plan to continue to expand the company, there are no plans to obtain a central office space.
“We will have to find new locations that allow us to meet as teams,” Beard says.“I believe this is the model of the future, especially for creative agencies.”
While both men hail from different states— Beard from Colorado and McNayr from Washington State—they credit Pepperdine with bringing them together, and preparing them for the upward arc their lives have taken.
“Nothing about our paths would have had us crossing,” Beard says.“Nearly every good thing that’s happened in my life is connected to Pepperdine.”
McNayr agrees that Pepperdine opened up opportunities to him that he would not have had at a different school, and says he will continue to be influenced by the principles instilled in him while at the University.
“We want to make sure people’s voices get heard, we want to maintain a personal touch, and we want to treat everyone with respect,” McNayr says. “We want to be known for being honest, caring, and humble but we also want to be the best in the world.”