The big idea isn’t dead; it’s just smashed into millions of itsy bitsy pieces.

March 9, 2010

By Michael Mark, Creative Director/CEO @ NYCA

The most dramatic change since I started in advertising is the big idea. In the hallways and conference rooms, that’s all you heard: “You got a big idea? Client is demanding a big idea.” We would work nights, weekends, lunches, coming up with the single-minded, iconic, brain-straining idea that would be the center of all the work. Now the big part of the big idea is that it would have to be so insightful, so expressive that it could be long lasting in the marketplace. That’s a lot of pressure on an idea and the people who were charged to come up with it. I must say I learned a great deal and still apply the intense training and scrutiny that went into coming up with those ideas. I wrote the line for the New York Stock Exchange, “The world puts its stock in us.” which was used for more than a decade because trust and fidelity must always be part of any financial institution.

In those days an idea with a lifespan of three to five years was the goal. Those were the ones that would run again and again with just resizing here and there. The longer it could last, the bigger. It was if the product, the competitive situation, the consumer was stationary, frozen, stunned timeless. A target that was a sitting duck. Hard to believe, right?

Take the Marlboro man. He was one such big idea – man, horse, sagebrush, logo. Welcome to Marlboro country. An emotional territory. Ran years and years without a change in TV, print, outdoor, POS, events. Sometimes he would ride the horse, sometimes he’d walk at its side, but that was it.

Today it’s about a lot of little ideas – tons, thousands of them, generating and regenerating connections – all energized with consumer insight and relevance, customized to the media in which it’s delivered, the time delivered, the specific audience delivered to and from again and again. Lots of small ideas, emanating from a bigger idea, packaged to travel anywhere at any time.

A big idea without the tentacles, the ability to scurry to multiple directions to many locations, is too slow, too clumsy, too asthmatic to keep pace with the consumer’s voracious appetite for more: more unique, more personal, more more. Due to the ability to see them all over, ideas can overstay their welcome fast, get outdated, become irrelevant, stale instantly. Bad for the brand.

Small is the new big. Lots and transmutable is the new focused.

Warning: this small is a bigger drain on the talent pool than the old big was. So it’s critical to find big and small thinkers and lots of small doers. And they have to love making the stuff (makes you think of Santa’s workshop with the elves). If they are passionate about connecting with consumers and generating ideas for and together with them, then it’s energizing. Then it’s a high (makes me think of those three-martini lunches of yore).

There’s a big upside for me from the old days of the single big event. Compared to now, they were lonely, self-involved, stagnant times. Just like we imagined our consumer to be. I’m big on small.

Doubt kills more companies than incompetency.

September 24, 2009

By Michael Mark, creative director & CEO @ NYCA

I believe this is the first headline I wrote for any client at NYCA, some seven years ago. It was for a company called HNC that four months later got bought by Fair Isaacs. And it is one of my favorite lines because it is true and I’ve used it to help run our company.

guesingDoubt causes second-guessing, fear, discontent and slowness and that is death for a company. We have to be brave to be creative. We have to believe that we are going to make nothing into something and good into great. 

Doubt undermines that boldness. Adversity is often real but it always needs to be turned into opportunity.

The best way to deal with uncertainty, I have found, not being the smartest guy, is a steadfast commitment to values and principles. Knowing what you believe to be true at its core and acting on it with complete discipline stares down creeping doubt. Clinging to those values gets you through the cloudy place that doubt leaves you to muck through. Principles are tools that help you see beyond what appears to be a wall and it opens roads on which to break speed records, as well as do some sightseeing. 

One night I sat down to jot down some thoughts and when I got up I had written 64 expectations for our agency. Each statement is something that I believe in deeply. I give the booklet out to each new NYCAer at our one-on-one orientation. It helps guide us all. Here are a few Seeds: 

 “grow! work is powered by a message that is highly engaging to the target, is true to the core values of the brand/product/service and is exceptionally inspired so it performs dramatically well in the marketplace.” 

This is our purpose. If you are unclear as what to do, do this.  

“We are a team. Wonderful as we are as individual talents, we are more powerful as a team.”  This is about how we do what we do.”

“Take your good ideas and sweat them, prod them, tough-love them, tickle them into grow! ideas.”  This is about work ethic and believing the extra effort is always worth it, so when you think maybe it can be better, it can be. Go at it again.

Our belief system speeds us past doubt right into action.

What happened September 11, 2001

September 10, 2009

By Michael Mark, creative director/ceo @NYCA

To those of you who lost loved ones in the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, here’s what happened in their final moments.


Your father was a hero.  When the building shook from the blast, he did not concern himself with fear.  He helped unblock an office door which had been barricaded by debris and furniture that had moved. He freed three people.

Your friend who was on the plane being hijacked recognized immediately how serious the matter was and reached to calm the shaking hand of the person in the next seat.

Your wife saw a man bleeding from his head and she tore a piece from her shirt and made a bandage for him.

Your aunt helped her co-workers who could not find the exit through the smoke – they all made it. Then she went back for others.

Your nephew who was the pilot on the plane had only the safety of everyone on board in focus every second.

Your grandfather found a young man pinned under a fallen piece of ceiling and even when the young man said go on without him – he stayed until others heard the calls and came to help.

Your husband took on the hijackers believing it would cost his life. He helped save hundreds of people neither of you will ever know.

Your grandmother who worked at the Pentagon led hundreds who were physically stronger to a secure area, putting them before her own welfare as she always has.

Your uncle gave his water to a choking woman who gave him God’s blessing with every floor they arrived at, arm in arm.

Your brother who always wanted to be a policeman knew without doubt as he followed the cries for help up the stairs this was the moment why. 

Your sister searched her entire floor to make sure everyone was out of there before she began to make her own way down. 

Your friend held the exit door open for his office-mates with his wheelchair, cheering as they moved on that “We’ll all get out together.” And he didn’t so much hold on to those who lifted him down as he hugged them.

Your son would not let the tired woman stop. He cajoled her by telling her she reminded him of you; how you two had to meet. He even called her mom to keep her moving.

Your flight attendant daughter was forced to the back of the plane with all the others on board but stood in front of them in protective defiance; keeping herself between the terrorists and her passengers.

Your sister climbed back up three flights against the crowd and heat, believing her assistant was still there.

Your college buddy’s sense of humor kept all in his voice’s range smiling and moving with hope.

Your niece lent her shoulder to lean on for a man she had seen in the elevator so many times but whose name she never knew.

Your sister-in-law saw a man sitting in the stairwell coughing, and shared her asthma medicine. They moved on together.

Your firefighter brother-in-law helped hundreds of people out, redirecting them to clearer exits as he climbed higher and higher.

Your nephew and his boss carried an older woman 38 floors.

Your cousin got everyone to sing “The Long and Winding Road” as they worked their way down, making up the words they didn’t know.

Your mother’s last thoughts were the same thoughts she’s had as she lay her head down every night since you were born.

You wonder what happened. You want to know what these people you love were feeling, what they were thinking, what they went through in their final moments.  These are actual facts, exactly as they happened. As true as their love for you. As true as their faith in your love for them.

Single Tasking

September 8, 2009

By Michael Mark, creative director/ceo @NYCA

To be completely focused and dedicate your energies totally to one endeavor is connecting with the task, the moment, life, yourself.

And it is a good way to live and work efficiently. 

I am finding it challenging and counter to what I believed and have been trained to do, which is more things at one time to accomplish more.  

single taskingI have texted, talked, driven, thought, eaten, dreamed, worked at the same time. And did none of them to the fullest, I am sure, while jeopardizing so much and so many.   

Juggling is part of my job, I thought: assignments, communications, writing, managing, clients, family, G-d, money. I figured I was doing well by feeding as many as I could at once – though each was starving. I was starving. 

The unity and wholeness in a single act is so rewarding both spiritually and physically, and intellectually refreshing we should do it just for the self nourishment but I am discovering it is also more productive. When we try to cram more into less time, we are cheating ourselves out of time. That seems counter to the intention.

And not only is the single-minded process much healthier and more productive, but the outcome  is so much better. 

One person, one act, one breath at a time. 

We move from how many things we got done to how much we got done. 

And I maintain the quantity is higher when focusing our superhuman powers on one activity. 

In subtraction, I find that doing one thing commands all my attention to fulfill the promise of the task.  

If you think it’s easy doing one thing completely at a time, try it and let me know.

Tell me after you’re done trying, not during.   

I will read it while doing nothing else. I hope that will feel good to you – it’s rare these days to receive one’s full attention. 

I guess that’s doing two things at one time in a way. Told you it’s challenging.

Find time to be inspired by each other

July 7, 2009

By Dan Henry, Senior Business Manager @NYCA 

In a prior life, I was in a band.  We worked hard, had fun, and at times made decent music.  Unfortunately, our regular practices weren’t always as productive as we’d have liked.  The stress of staying up all night getting ready for the next show, or trying to put the finishing touches on the new song before a recording session made us crazy.  Once, when we were at each other’s throats and things were close to a breaking point, we decided to try somethfriendsing new – spending time together outside of the garage.  It had an amazing affect.  We got to know each other outside of the instruments we played and when we sat down to prepare for the next show we did it with more patience and passion.  We even came up with ideas for some of our best music when we weren’t plugged in.  

Naturally all of us buy into this idea – we make sure to have lunch with friends or catch a dinner and a movie with our significant others when we can to stay close. But what about our clients?  

Today we are lucky to offer instantaneous service to clients who are located 1700 miles away and beyond.  Our relatively small agency can coordinate with far-off branches and vendors to launch global campaigns. Even more important, brands can work with the right agency team without having to worry about their office locations.  

But email, or cell phone video, or 140 character segments can’t replace the need for real human connection.  

Yesterday, while our distant clients were in town, we shared assets and ideas and org charts, but we also shared good food and pictures of our kids. In all the rush to meet launch deadlines, there was a short pause where I remembered that business relationships, like our personal relationships, can grow stronger and richer when we don’t just share spreadsheets and text messages, but also time.  It is well understood that time is rare and valuable.  But so are the ideas and learnings that naturally bubble to the surface over a drink.  Ideas like how to communicate more effectively or how to better utilize the skill set of a particular team member. It doesn’t have to happen every day, but once in a while there’s nothing like a good ol’ fashioned handshake or high five at the end of the day.  It’s good for the soul, and it’s good for business. 

It’s a busy business we’re in and too many issues begging for time.  While I’m not making music anymore, I still see the value of getting outside of the garage with your team when you can.  I’m reminded of all the good people I work with and for, and that invigorates me and makes me ready to face the next impossible deadline.