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One-on-One with Sam Maclay

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Sam Maclay, 46, has fought his whole life to be able to make a living being creative.

He is a musician and a writer, and now he has found his niche in advertising.

Along with his partners, Maclay has turned 3 Advertising into one of the premier advertising shops in Albuquerque. He acts as its creative director.

3 handles accounts for PNM, Farm Credit, Presbyterian, and several smaller businesses in Albuquerque such as Humble Coffee and High and Dry Brewing Co. It also has a Washington, D.C., office where it handles accounts for the National Environmental Health Association and Growth Energy.

But it’s been a long road to get to where he is.

As a young man he wanted to play heavy metal, a dream he pursued with vigor. He studied his craft, he worked for his success, but ultimately fighting to be a rock star turned out to be a lot less fun than actually being a rock star.

So Maclay decided he needed to search for another path. He worked his way up through the Albuquerque advertising world until eventually Maclay got a chance to open his own firm with two, and later three, of his best friends.

What were you like in high school?

Outwardly, I looked like someone you’d probably cross the street if you saw me coming, because I had the long hair and everything, but inwardly, I was probably more of a nerd.

What did you do after high school?

I moved out to Los Angeles and went to music school for a while. I was in a rock band for a time. So we moved out to Los Angeles and lived in Hollywood and just sort of had a different life.

I finished music school and tried to get more into the music business out there.

For a few years, I worked at Tower Records and then after about four years of that, sort of banging my head against the wall, I came back and enrolled at UNM.

What did you study at UNM?

I graduated with a degree in journalism and one in psychology.

I was a psychology major for a long time and realized that I had no intention of going to graduate school.

I was always interested in journalism, and within journalism, they had a class on copywriting, and a sort of light bulb went off for me. And I thought, “Well this is something I can do because it’s a mix of creative but also a steady paycheck.”

What happened after college?

My senior year of college I got an internship at Rick Johnson and Co., which at the time was the big ad agency in town and where so many people in New Mexico got their start.

Almost everyone in our ad community has had an interaction or a tour of duty with Rick Johnson and Co., which was great because you really learned how an agency is supposed to be set up and supposed to work. Rick set his agency up in the way that New York and Chicago agencies are set up. It was a template for how the big boys do it.

I got an internship there and then they hired me after my internship ended. So I felt fortunate to be able to start.

But I really had to fight my way into the creative department. I didn’t have a great portfolio at the time and had to take creative assignments where I could get them. And so I just had to cut my teeth on that stuff and earn my way into the creative department.

What year was the internship?

1996. And then I started working there in 1997. I was there almost nine years. And I worked my way up to creative director and vice president.

One of my partners, Tim McGrath, was the design director there. Then, we were good friends with Chris Moore, who was a step below the owners at McKee Wallwork.

So the three of us had been talking loosely about, maybe, starting our own shop. So, the three of us decided to strike out in 2005 and start our own shop.

And we also decided to add a fourth partner about six months later, Sue Lewis, who is our media director.

We are kind of like four legs of the stool, if you will. So the four of us could act as a smaller large agency for clients.

Do you ever bring in interns like you were at Rick Johnson and Co.?

We do, from time to time. One of them got a job at Nike. One of them works for Google. Some of them have gone on to pretty impressive things. It’s not a constant basis, but we do bring in interns.

What’s it like working in Washington, D.C., these days?

Its really been eye-opening to see. You’ll work with clients. and there are plenty of Republicans and Democrats in the room. It’s really a purple world, and you have to have people of both persuasions to get anything done.

And I think some of the partisan stuff is really to get people riled up, but seeing behind the curtain (it’s different).

What is Sackwear?

When we started our agency, we didn’t have a lot of clients, so we actually started our own side business. So, Sackwear makes apparel, and it has also taught us how to be a client, especially in the digital space with Instagram and Facebook. Tim runs the Instagram page for Sacwear and it has over 55,000 followers.

So your children are pretty good soccer players?

They are both on travel club soccer teams. We spend a lot of time on the edges of soccer fields across the Southwest. It’s fun.

Not growing up as a jock, it’s weird to have two kids who are jocks. But you never know what your kids are going to gravitate (toward). It’s cool. It’s been fun.

Does (son) Will want to play in college?

Yeah, he aspires to go as far as he can. And I can relate to that because I sort of had some crazy dreams when I was young.

So our attitude is it’s a dream with an expiration date. There are only certain times in life where you can pursue things. So we are encouraging him to pursue it as hard as he can and go for it. You know, he has the rest of his life to sit in an office. Why not dream big?

I think if a kid has a dream or a goal, it’s like half of what keeps them out of trouble. That’s what kept me out of trouble.