Rut Busters: What do you see?

September 28, 2010

By Dave Huerta, VP/Associate Creative Director @ NYCA

In every agency it’s the same story. Buildings filled with problem solvers doing their best to meet shrinking timelines, while providing their clients with their freshest thinking.

As you can guess, shrunken timelines and fresh thinking don’t get along great. Let’s just say they’re not friends. They don’t even like being in the same neighborhood. And rarely will anything good come about when they’re forced in the same room, let alone brief.

So being the super smart and evolved communicators we are, we naturally kick into high gear. Faced with no time, our brains do a quick search of all the solutions that have worked in the past and finds the one that best matches the problem in front of us. (Probably has to do with some left over fight or flight issues.)

Anyway, it’s awesome for meeting a timeline. But not awesome for creating unique and effective work that addresses a unique communication challenge. It leads to patterns and ruts where you end up with the same solutions to completely different problems.

At NYCA we don’t like ruts. They’re not good for agencies or clients, so we’re doing an internal series of rut busters in the way of visual teasers, thought provoking questions and brain contorting challenges. Just different ways to keep our minds open and seeing problems from unexpected directions so we can continue to provide our clients with unique and effective grow! work.

And it’s not just for the creative department. The Rut Busters are for every NYCAer whether you’re the President, in accounting or part of the cleaning crew.

Who knows, it just might reveal which senior account person will be our next jr. art director or writer.

Here’s the first rut buster and what NYCAers’ saw.

What do you see?

We run communications for our boss: the consumer.

July 20, 2010
This is a guest post from an old-time creative who we keep around for his stories about the “good days of ad-makin‘ when creative was for creative.” The comments below do not reflect the opinions of NYCA or its collaborative community.

By O. Codger, Creative

Yeah, I read the trades. All about how the consumer is the boss these days. Endless subservient chicken-hearted articles, whined by marketing officers and reporters who never looked in the empty heart of a blank page and created an ad in their lives; about agencies needing to give up control to the consumer.

Really? Ever see these consumers in action? Power-hungry and completely self-centered divas, the lot. Forever hijacking the conversation, never listening to what advertising experts have to say. And it’s not like these big shots always know what’s best for the business. Let me see their shelves of Mobius or Addy awards, and Clios.

Sure, I saw how the consumer made the best Super Bowl spot again this year, according to the polls. (Then again, who owns the polls? Yup, these guys own everything!)

But that’s not my issue.

I know this is counter to data-driven intelligence these days and I also realize the inmates are running the joint but I got this gnawing — and you can say it’s a control issue (the consumer/boss undoubtedly will) — it’s about responsibility and accountability. Remember those values?

We’re trained professionals; craftspeople who have devoted ourselves to the breakthrough idea. We know what’s best. We get paid for this stuff. Is it too much to ask to be empowered by the powers that be? Consumers should consume and creators should create things for them to consume. That’s the natural order of things. Mess with it and mass confusion occurs; not to mention, lack of confidence in agencies.

The consumer/boss not only wants to create the work, they want to star in it too! They want to represent the brands they buy not just to their families – they want to share their opinions with the world! They want to be the advertising agency and by that I mean the account people, the creative team, the media planners, buyers – all! Just because they spend their money or have a friend (don’t get me started on the word “friend” these days!) who has had an experience with the product or service. And they listen to each other – and act on it. In packs. And the truth is their work is spotty at best. Just ask the award show judges!

Just saying that everyone has a spot in the food chain. The consumer needs to be put in their place: in front of the TV, watching funny spots, eating stuff we told them to eat. And liking it.

You have to love it.

July 13, 2010

By Michael Mark, Creative Director/CEO @ NYCA

NYCAers celebrate our 8th Anniversary

At NYCA, we cried almost every day when we first started. We sat around the card tables and couches in my house, in our first office by the Chinese restaurant, and spoke of our dreams. We shared what NYCA would be, could be, what growing meant, and what we promised and wanted for each other, ourselves, our futures, our clients and our work.

In the beginning, it’s all lust. And if that fire recedes and reveals love, good – if it leaves anything else behind, it’s time to start over. Because love is what we are really after.

Whatever it is you do, you must find love for it or the mission will not be fulfilled. You will not be fulfilled. The letter you are writing, the house you are painting, your family members you are caring for, your career’s progress – all of it – you have to love your life or it will not be a good life. A surgeon doesn’t need to love the patient he’s cutting, but does need to love being a healer or the art of cutting or being admired for doing it brilliantly.

Love makes one compassionate and aware and holds us to our commitments. This is deeper than passion. We experience this every day when we walk through our grove of trees that we plant for our clients, to remind everyone at NYCA of our promises and to stand firm, always.

Love made me write the words in our Seeds book, the guiding principles we give to each NYCAer when they start. I tell them its okay to bleed over their work, but not hemorrhage. We need these good people to care deeply but have priorities as they dive in.

I believe that love is key to our success. Not the quality of work, or the number on our staff, or the innovations, or the flexibility, or even the culture – as all are the external markings of the intention, all nurtured by the love.

When Advertising Stings

April 15, 2010

By Michelle Edelman, President @ NYCA

Whether you TiVo them or skip over them, ads are an important part of our cultural experience.

I don’t know about you, but I still find it creepy when brands bring back people from the dead, cure disease, or otherwise mess with life and death. I didn’t like it when Christopher Reeve stood up and walked. Because he never would again, and it seemed somehow disrespectful to use his condition for commercial purposes. Most famously and most recently, we heard Tiger Woods’ deceased dad questioning his son’s morals. Will the much-debated TV spot sell shoes? We don’t know. But probably Nike is on your mind now. You are noticing that swoosh on people’s feet and heads more than you used to. It’s not that there is suddenly more Nike out there, it’s that Nike is more present for you. That’s what advertising can do, at its best. Because when it’s time to go shopping, the swoosh will jump out at you then, too.

But still, it feels like a dirty trick. And that’s where advertising stings. A sting has both pleasure and pain associated with it. Or so we said in our advertising campaign for the good/bad nightclub, Stingaree. There is a certain truth in it – our brains can mix up good and bad feelings and there is intensity in this.

I didn’t mean to write this post about Tiger Woods. Actually I wanted to address this piece of copy. It stopped me because I thought – wow that woman looks uncannily like Gilda Radner! Whom I loved and miss. On further inspection, I found that the ad was using her image to sell fake wood flooring. Point taken. Looks real. But would Gilda want to be brought back to life to shill laminate? Do we want her to? The ad represents her beautifully and yet – misrepresents her wholly. I am left feeling that Armstrong is inauthentic and not simply fake.

Sometimes advertising points out its own lines to be crossed and that in itself, is part of our cultural learning.

Gen Yers in the workplace: lots of work but worth it.

July 2, 2009

By Michael Mark, creative director/ceo @NYCA

Advertising is a young person’s biz they say. Our agency and our industry are teaming with Generation Yers – all born post 1980.  Warning, mass generalization about a generation: these 70 million working people are super smarties!

They have more general knowledge than any generation has ever had at their age.  But – and all you young NYCAers mind your manners with your elders now – these guys require lots of feedback and it better be in instant-web time – oh, and they like it positive. 

 Yes of course it’s my generation’s fault. Being helicopter parents, (my wife and I refer to our home as the heliport) we videoed our kids’ every drool string like they were pearls. It made them feel entitled. And then we overscheduled them:  the play date at 9, the tutor at 10, followed by soccer game at 11, lunch brought to them at 1, etc. and, guess what – they like it that way and don’t intend to have that behavior stop. With all those passions they have developed, they must now see work as one of them.  So just as they facebook at 10 a.m. in the office – they should be writing ideas at 10 p.m. wherever they are. They should be.

And so these talented staffers are an intense amount of work for their managers. They seem to miss self discipline that the latch-key kids before them had to learn on their own. It’s because they have gotten so much stimulation – constant interactivity is needed at high dosages. That means their manager’s energy has to be channeled so they can tap into it at all times – human wifi.

But I have found they’re worth the attention. An added helping of ‘you can do it!’ with very clear guidelines focuses them through all the distractions that their up-bringing and media present.  This bunch tends to be very open to making their goals. 

Here are some approaches, some even we have taken:

1. Time is tough to give – tough, give them your time. They need interaction and feedback so if you hire them you must work with them. Hallway reviews, ambushes really, are common, so be prepared for unscheduled ‘How’m I doing boss? What do I need to do to be promoted?’ And if it’s their year anniversary – they will be on your calendar 8 sharp. Also, here’s a benefit for their managers: interaction is a two way street – if you listen to them and stay open you will learn a great deal. In fact you can be more up to speed in your business in technology, communication methods just to name two. Hey you can extend your career – and with the economy you’ll need to! So pay them back with your attention.

2. The language of criticism is important. If you want them to do something beside roll their eyes and stuff their ears with their i-buds avoid comparisons to your past, “In my day we didn’t have lunch, we worked through the night and that includes Saturday.”  Be to the point and be as quantitative as you can be – they get this.  “I expect that work to be complete by 9 – not 9:30 and closing time is when the job is done. If that takes until 8pm, that’s what it takes. And by the job done it means you have completed these 12 tasks.”

3. ‘Making a difference’ is among the most popular phrase I hear from these people – a cause beyond profitability and growing the business will catch their attention and fire their desire to work because they are doing something besides work for the man. They are deeply connected to the world. Work is to support life, odd as it sounds, they don’t live to work.  At NYCA we have an outlet to “make a difference” inside the place that reaches outside to the community.  This cause grew from our NYCAers. 

4. Money matters. 49% of Gen Yers say retirement benefits are a very important factor in their job choices. A USA Today study showed that 70% of the Gen Y respondents contribute to their 401(k) plan.  They are living through a financial melt-down and they are wise to the ways of Wall Street. A job makes money and money invested well makes money. They get that. They demand that. When we started I was told we couldn’t afford the program we selected we did anyway and it has been attractive in hiring.

5. Your business is everyone’s business. These guys share financial information that Boomers consider private such as their salary. They share their feelings about the company freely. And when they share they share with hundreds and even thousands of friends through their networks. Your company ‘private laundry’ information is blowing out there in the wind of mass conversation. The good part of that is when they are saying good stuff the word travels fast and far. Their peers could soon be your next talented staffer.Clock_Nina 002

6. They want their lives in their work lives. That’s why our workplace is pet friendly. Though it’s difficult and sometimes expectations have to be reiterated – the more we embrace their lives, the more they will bring their work into them. We have found it a breath of freshness – aside from the pet odors.

Above all it’s the connection; it’s on us, old analogers, to put in the time. Different as we are, our mutual success depends on sharing common ground and pushing each other so all can grow.  It’s certainly keeping us young.

I just hope they remember to take care of me when I’m drooling.

Two pieces came out in just this morning that deal with this generation.

We took some time. Now it’s ours forever.

June 3, 2009

By Michael Mark, creative director/ceo @NYCA 

In the middle of this recession, in the middle of being too busy launching two global websites, in the middle of strategic planning for three full-out 2010 media campaigns, in the middle of applying all we learned from our research, and Tweeting, Facebooking, IMing and blogging, we stopped. And painted vases. 

We did what seems impossible these days – we took some time.  

Time is a gift often seen as a foe: we race the clock, we are up against a deadline, we push the meeting, we run behind.  And the way we try to compete is by splitting ourselves up into pieces, to do more tasks in the same second. 

How often have we said we need to clone ourselves?  And in the attempt we become fractured.  We say that media is fractured, but it’s not true. There are just more complete communication channels each going on simultaneously, multiplying by the instant it seems.  However there’s only one of us. And it is us — our attention, actually — being shattered into pieces. Tough to be centered and focused in such a state. 

That’s why yesterday some of us took time and danced in the middle of the corridor by the creative area.



In this week’s “New York” magazine article, In Defense of Distraction,  author Sam Anderson interviewed David Meyer, an expert on multitasking & cognition.

 In Defense of Distraction



Illustration by Glen Cummings/MTWTF  

He describes distraction “as a full-blown epidemic—a cognitive plague that has the potential to wipe out an entire generation of focused and productive thought.” Because of the way we use the ever-multiplying communication channels, he says, it is tough to get things done, adding “..even ten years ago…it was a lot calmer. There was a lot of opportunity for getting steady work done.”

True.  And we have proof.  In NYCA’s production area there’s an LED clockthat stares, red-eyed, at everyone passing, as it winds down from the moment the client approves the brief to when we have to have the work out there. Heartlessly, it heads to 0:0:0:0:0 from month to week to day to hour to minute to the final second. It started as a joke. It became a nervous-laugh producing – and, some say, an effective — monster. Every time we walked by, we were reminded we had to do three other things by this time.  Clock_Nina 004

And while it blinked away precious seconds, we painted away in Fargo – one of our conference rooms between the NY and CA rooms. We casually dipped into each other’s color wells, sharing brushes, and stories and time.  

 Here’s what we got out of the time we took: 

We got to create in a new way.

We got to catch up with ourselves and others.

We got to start again on projects with new energy (ok, perhaps fueled by anxiety of losing 40 minutes).

We got 40 minutes that we will always own.

We got something new to tweet, IM, blog, talk about.

We got vases that will sit on our desks and hold flowers that are given out twice a month as a thank you for being an NYCAer.


Oh, and Sandy in admin sent out an email later in the day telling everyone how to mark that vase painting time on our time management program. So all in the world is at peace — or at least accounted for. Thanks for taking the time to read this. Now go back to work.