To find an idea, get lost.

September 10, 2010

By Michael Mark, Creative Director/CEO @ NYCA

I’m scared of the usual. I go out of my way to avoid it. So I’m perpetually lost. And I’m good with that. It’s why I try to eat at different places or never sit in the same chair in the conference rooms. Anything to give me a new perspective. New stimuli to react to. Anything to run me off the road of a routine and jab my senses awake.

The safe and well-lighted can be deadly attractive. But the need for originality has a greater power than the comfort of the known, and forces me into the gray. Off-balance is better than balance. I’d rather fall than stay still; I’d prefer to trip forward and land wherever. You have to live in-between, in the synapse, in the fog. Romantic, isn’t it? Yes, and we all love romance but there’s a danger: Will she kiss me? Will she slap me?

That’s the only way I believe you can discover a new way, invent a new road, what we at NYCA call a grow! idea. You gotta make yourself uncomfortable.

I actually like working on trains, planes, in the car. (You ever wonder how you got to where you’re going? Me too.) The motion pushes and pulls me, and my mind shakes free of the everyday. I might see something out the window, and that sparks something. I might hit the car in front of me and that makes me think something else. I might hear something on the radio and that makes me sing something. I might get off at a different exit – not wrong but unexpected – and that makes me see something new. I might not get to where I was going but I might get to a better place. And “I might” is what I’m after, not “I have” or “I did.”

So when my team tells me they’re lost, I know they are on their way. When I hear, “Oh, this assignment is easy,” I start getting tremors. Sometimes it is easy – the vision presents itself in a moment, and that’s great — but more often you bite into it and it’s fool’s gold.

You know that term “losing your mind”? I recommend it. The mind will tell you the rules, the mind will tell you fire burns or that is a bad thought. When you lose your mind, I think you lose your connection to the traditional – the acceptable way of doing something. And you can have originality – let’s call it temporary creative sanity. And what do you replace your lost mind with? A new idea, I hope. If not, get on a bus to anywhere.

So if you’re looking for a grow! idea, my direction to you would be to get lost.


Gifts to the kids of the gifted.

August 25, 2010

By Michael Mark, Creative Director/CEO @ NYCA


“You sure you want to work at NYCA?” I always ask, shove a bit, “There are many easier places to work.”

Though we are a wonderful place for some, we are not right for most. It’s my job to point out what we really have going on here with candidates to help them make the best decision for both of us.

I tell them we work long hours, including weekends now and again, we are meeting crazy (too crazy and we are adjusting that with the hope of keeping the collaboration strong), we are relentless, always searching for a better idea, even on the way to the meeting, in the meeting, after the meeting is over and the work is approved. It’s demanding. That’s why we always give birthday and holiday presents to the kids of the people who work here. It’s our way of thanking them for so generously sharing their loved ones with us and to let them know we love them, too.


Seth Godin asks: What’s the point?

July 5, 2010

By Michael Mark, CEO/Creative Director @ NYCA

Seth Godin asks us to stop in the midst of mindlessly moving along to make sure when we look back we are satisfied. Thanks, Seth.

Read Seth’s post here.


Doing good matters.

June 30, 2010

By Meghan Tetwiler, Brand Planner @ NYCA

Last week I walked out of a strategic meeting with one of our solar start-up clients re-invigorated that what I do, to an arguably significant degree, matters.

Think about it. Advertising can fuel healthy competition and encourage progressive innovation yielding better products for consumers and society at large.  Advertising done well can also bring about much needed societal shifts in peoples’ thoughts and behaviors.

A few examples to which I’m personally privy: one advertising campaign can help recognize and champion the far too often neglected and invisible mom.  Another can celebrate “real beauty” across the planet instead of glorifying 21st century, computer-augmented glamour.  These “do good” ad campaigns have the power to impact more than just units sold.

Clean energy advertising, from exclusively an advertising point of view, has the greatest potential to fundamentally change our world; I believe it’s what is needed to catapult alternative energy adoption to the masses.

If you are someone who stays up on advancements in sustainable innovation, then you already know alternative energy is no longer a dream for tomorrow; it is a reality for today.  A recent NYCA project in the solar roofing sector validated, to me, how close we are to leading a more energy efficient existence, where the world is less reliant on finite energy resources and more empowered to be self-sufficient.

I was amazed to learn there are so many proven, and increasingly affordable, sustainable energy practices readily available in the building sector alone.

I predict somewhere down the road, cutting-edge architects and regular old homeowners alike will share my enthusiasm for integrated photovoltaic systems that blend into existing roof structures.  What’s the hold up? Well, people don’t yet understand the ins-and-outs of alternative energy nor do they realize entrepreneurs have made saving the planet profitable.

I believe the groundwork for solar success is in place; sustainable technologies are constantly being encouraged by governmental incentives and there appears to be an emerging appetite for solar growing amongst a segment of “citizen consumers.”  What is next needed to help transition our world into a sustainable era is widespread demand across demographics. Who can best influence consumer behavior and shape culture in a positive direction? Advertisers – those whose messages are heard by the masses.

I’ve spent over four years working in this consumer-centric industry and have become well-versed in understanding what triggers people and finding a way to position products/services in ways that have meaning.  In order to ensure people embrace alternative energy completely, we must find a way to create conceptual badge value of doing good for the planet as well as find ways to fulfill the human need to reap personal gain.

It’s undeniable – advertisers have an important job to be done; we can accelerate the speed of progress toward sustainability. I look forward to partnering with alternative energy companies, making strides in growing their businesses and simultaneously taking steps in changing our world.


Build it smart enough for your customers at their dumbest.

March 15, 2010

By Michael Mark, Creative Director/CEO @ NYCA

When we go too fast, our attention is taxed and our IQ drops. Happens in the car, when we talk, when we eat, when we shop.

As marketers, we spend a great deal of time learning about customers and their lives. But do we create work to serve their mindset at the buying moment, when they’re overwhelmed, distracted, mindless?

So if we want them to buy from us, we must make it easy on them, even stupid easy. We need to make our engagement pieces easier to act on in all mediums and at fast-fast motion. The speed bump is creativity’s arrogance.

Too often I used to hear that the execution is super cool, it’s sophisticated, innovative, subtle, cutting edge. That the customer will be intrigued and, yes, although it will challenge them, the customer will figure it out.

No, they won’t. They came to shop, not to pass an SAT test. They’ll move on to the next site.

So resist the ornamental and build the navigation so it’s as intuitive as if they came up with it. Design the e-commerce site so it’s easy to buy immediately. One example: don’t require a sign-up/registration before allowing consumers to check out. You might lose a customer as they are handing you the cash – that’s a nightmare.

You want drama? Make the media drivers and the content captivating. Customers might slow down for that.

We think that’s creative – the kind that creates customers.


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.


Yesterday we interviewed a candidate and someone else showed up.

March 3, 2010

By Michael Mark, Creative Director/CEO @ NYCA

The senior writer had his site up in our conference room. Six of us walked in for our usual group probe. At NYCA, we surround candidates like Disney hyenas. “What was the strategy behind the creative? How did the work perform? What would you do now to make it better? What’s your work process with other departments? With clients? What are your thoughts on consumer generated content and also social media?” All that stuff.

Suddenly up popped an instant message from a Facebook friend: “Yo.” We all laughed; well, one of us didn’t – she was texting on her Blackberry and missed the moment. A causality of time shifting. The candidate’s instinct was to shut it off and get back to his pitch. “NO! Wait!” we said. “Tell him you’re in an interview.” The candidate good-naturedly followed the pack. We found out the fb-er was an art director in Chicago. “Ask him to tell us something about your work,” we dared. The Chicagoan im-ed back a cheeky, “Good or bad?” At our urging, the candidate wrote: “The truth.”

There was a sticky moment of tension, the kind you get when you’re on the verge of something that could go either way. We waited. “You’re a solid writer” came up. That’s it? Really? In an interview, you say “solid” about your fb friend? Maybe it’s easier to be honest or inconsiderate screen-to-screen than checking references on the phone? But what if it was a set up all along? What if the fb-er Chicago art director had raved – would that have influenced us more? More than if he’d said the same thing later on a call? What is the persuasion value of in-the-moment testimony? There are possibilities here to change the dynamic of the interview by bringing along a posse. The point is today you can.

The lines and boundaries are forever blurring. Editorial is really ads, ads show up as content, personal conversations are corporately sponsored, friends are purchased or bartered for, so why can’t intimate business meetings turn into a large social events on behalf of a business decision?

We went back and forth some more; it was just too novel to stop. We even started interviewing the art director. As for the writer, the intruder event didn’t appear to sway us one way or the other. This time.

It just shows how accessible we all are now. Even in the protected space of an interview we can be found. And perhaps be found out. We’ve all checked on candidates, future bosses, blind dates and companies through social networks before and after we meet. Guess now we can consider doing it as we meet. It’s a collision of the virtual and the real – though sometimes it’s hard to tell which is which.

I’ll never forget that interview and the writer’s work was pretty good too.