Under The Hood With… Johnson McKay, Director of Fly

7 months ago by

Ahead of our next Under The Hood November event, we learnt more about one of our speakers, Johnson McKay.

Johnson is the Director of Fly, he started as an owner / in business development and then slowly shifted to strategy, then creative and now cultural strategy and creative storytelling. Their philosophy then was to reject advertising as a means of building brand loyalty and focus on helping brands to engage their communities in a meaningful way.

Can you tell us a little bit about who you are, what your background is, and how you first got started in the industry?
He uri tēnei o Ngāti Porou, Ngāti Rongomaiwahine, Ngāti Awa, Ngāti Mahuta. Ko Johnson Mckay tōku ingoa. Tēnā rawa atu koutou katoa. I am the Director of Fly, an agency I started back in 2005 while still at University. Our philosophy then was to reject advertising as a means of building brand loyalty. Instead, brands need to engage their communities in a meaningful way. I started as an owner / business development dude and then slowly shifted to strategy, then creative and now cultural strategy and creative storytelling.

What project will you be presenting in Under the Hood?
Te Urungi, Innovating Aotearoa: https://befly.co.nz/projects/te-urungi-innovating-aotearoa. This is a brand identity and brand launch project for Manatū Taonga The Ministry for Culture & Heritage, who were launching a $60M fund to enable the arts and culture sector to adapt and to thrive.

What was the most challenging part of the project and what lessons did you draw from it?
The fund intends to bring diverse creatives together to create new ways for our community to adapt and thrive. So we wanted to role model that intention in how we did our work. So we brought together a traditional waka expert and carver, Mātahi Brightwell (Ngāti Toa Rangatira, Ngāti Raukawa, Te Arawa) a Māori artist, Graham Tipene (Ngāti Whātua, Ngāti Hinerangi, Ngāti Manu, Ngāti Kahu, Ngāti Haua) and a Pākehā graphic designer Tim Hansen to work side by side in developing the work.

Probably the biggest insight is just how easy it is to create distinctive, culturally authentic work when there is a spirit of kotahitanga (unity) and manaakitanga (reciprocity and generosity). Each person bringing their full wairua and aroha into the work.

Was there an ‘Aha!’ moment in the project when things clicked and fell into place?
One of the aha! moments was when we all first met to whakawhanaungatanga, or build relationships and finding that our waka expert and our artist had a deep connection. Mātahi was first taught waka skills by Ngāti Whātua and so on his maiden voyage, he chose to land at Ōkahu Bay as a sign of respect. Graham, being from Ngāti Whātua, helped reinforce that connection and rapport and it shifted the entire project to be more collaborative and meaningful. It was a good example of how relationship building should precede any work.

Creatively, it was finding the simplest expression of the narrative in the logo mark by Tim and then most visually expressive version of it in the full artwork by Graham. To find the scalability of a narrative down to a logo and up into a visual system was exciting.

Now that the project has finished, what are you working on?
We are working with quite a few government ministries and business clients, assisting them to define their relationship to Māori principles and values. As well as working on several brand transformations that will help normalise Māori culture within some of our most important and influential organisations.

What insights to your methodological approach or philosophy can you give us?  
Everyone wants to discover deep insights, define impactful strategies and design work that engages the heart and mind, shifting behaviour and changing customers lives. That’s a given. But what makes an organisation different is when they are driven by a purpose. We have a unique purpose to help redesign Aotearoa to be more inclusive, have more integrity when partnering with our indigenous culture and more engaged with our communities. This requires us to advocate and role model. It takes bravery and skill to be honest with our clients, to help them shift their thinking and to set up the brief in a way that will create better outcomes for all New Zealanders.

Outside of work hours what creative projects and/or hobbies are you involved with?
I am always trying to improve my te reo Māori skills and also taking a tikanga Māori course at Te Wānanga o Aotearoa. I’m involved with my faith, The Church Of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints as a teacher and volunteer. I’m also writing a history of my whānau to share with my children and extended whānau.  I’m pretty much in nerd mode all the time developing strategy, learning insights, communicating nerd stuff hahaha.

And finally, where to next for you? What areas of your work or personal development are you hoping to explore further?
Well, following on from my previous answer, I have a ton of things I want to learn. But one of my goals is to continue to develop a truly bi-cultural tikanga led model that will help our creative sector to evolve.



Join us on zoom for a candid walk-through of two designers process on two projects, featuring Janelle Rodrigues, Creative Director at Creature and Johnson Mckay Creative Director at Fly.


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