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 Due to the ability to see them all over, ideas can overstay their welcome fast, get outdated, become irrelevant, stale instantly.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.

You gotta trust your advertising agency

December 23, 2009

By Michael Mark, CEO/Creative Director @NYCA

I am taking off my shoes and walking over to the fire.

I want you to hold my feet to the flames.

I am to be held accountable.

If this is kinky to you, let me tell you it is business to us.

We do what we say, we say what we do. This way no one gets burned.

Yes, we’re an advertising agency. We think there are others like us out there.

But when the Gallup Poll does an integrity survey and our industry ends up below politicians – well, it’s time to stand up. Barefoot.

We’re in Encinitas. California. We are experienced creative entrepreneurs from the biggest and best agencies in the country.

We grow our clients’ businesses with a process that is harmonious with our clients.

Grow is everything.

We use integrity and virtue, along with creativity, insight, innovation and analytics.

We use moral skill.

It’s what makes our work stand out. It’s what makes our work actually work in the marketplace.

But what’s deeply important to us is how we do it.

We make promises. We keep them.

One promise we made to a client was that we would go bankrupt before giving up on solving his company’s problem.

The CEO of the prospect-turned-client asked me to sign that.

We delivered.

Next time he accepted a handshake.

What is creative?

November 10, 2009

By Michael Mark, Creative Director & CEO @ NYCA

The first question I ask all NYCA candidates in all departments is this question, right after what they are passionate about. Makes for a good conversation and lets them know two things: that they are responsible for being creative and the answer “something cool” will get them a job next door. Not here.

For us the answer is simple. Not easy mind you. It’s what the agency is built on.

NYCA strategyWe create growth in the marketplace. So any idea or execution that is powerful enough to help that to happen is creative.  It’s not about pretty pictures, not about engagement, or the plan, or the insight or even if we like it or the client thinks it great. All those are roads to getting to the destination for sure. But it’s about the growth.

Now much as we think and sweat over them not every idea is what we call a grow! idea. The odds are stacked against each one as it struggles for life. Compassionate as we are with each other – you have to be if you’re going to be so tough on ideas – we are merciless when it comes to a grow! idea. 

Here’s a check list to see if you have the makings of one:

To be grow! work it must be powered by a message that is highly relevant to the target.

It must be true to the core values of the brand/product/service.

It must be executionally inspired.

If you get all yeses you have a well intentioned grow! idea. And once it performs dramatically well in the marketplace then you have creative. 

Simple. Impossible. It’s what we do.


July 17, 2009

By Michelle Edelman, president @NYCA

We recently conducted a survey among top US marketers. We wanted to know how they were faring as the Great Recession drags on.


We’ve witness declining media spends and our sample of $100+ million companies was no exception. 58% had reduced media expenditures and 79% had slashed their production budgets too. 19% of our sample reported significant change in their marketing strategies as a result of the economy. 69% of these top marketers were experimenting with new ways to get their messages out and sway consumers.

In short, it’s tough out there – getting tougher – and there’s a need for change in the air.

You would think agency partnerships would be more mission-critical than ever. Agencies can help their clients change paths quickly, and deliver alternate media solutions. As third party experts, we live and breathe this stuff all day every day, across industries and see different successes across different companies. 

But only 1/3 of companies reported that they viewed their agencies as collaborators in this dollar-shift, dollar-shrinking challenge. 2 out of 3 marketers said they would hand the changes down to the agencies to execute.

If you’re one of those 2 out of 3 – try your agency out. Put them in brainstormings to see if they can bring creative ways to help you through. If not, drop us a line and we’ll send you 5 ideas next week. Sometimes our solutions sound rather weird for a creative shop – like improving the efficiency of a process so it costs less. As creative entrepreneurs, this is business as usual for us – not just recession talk.

Award Show Losers

June 8, 2009

By Michael Mark, creative director and CEO, NYCA 

We don’t enter award shows. Because we don’t want to lose.  

We don’t want to lose focus of our target audience. We don’t want to lose sight of our promise to our clients to apply all of our energies to growing their brands with inspired ideas. We don’t want to lose our reputation for integrity. We don’t want to lose our original voice. Work created to win awards is focused on judges. Makes sense, they’re the ones who hand out the awards. Our only target audience is our client’s consumers.  

How many times have we all told our clients that in order to be most effective, an ad has to be single-minded? One message, one target. Our work is based on an insightful positioning and a solid strategy devised from research on our clients’ products/services, the target audience and their media consumption. If we’re distracted even a little bit, we dilute the chances of getting this daunting task accomplished.  

So if you’re determined to win awards with your ads, which master do you answer to? This is the question that led to the invention of the mock ad.  Mock ads are those ads created by an agency who knows that the work that actually ran in the media isn’t quite what the judges are looking for so they do some minor surgery: nipping the copy (often cutting out “the sell” the client insisted on), perhaps doing a bit of liposuction on the hefty logo and then entering that as the ad that supposedly ran.  

No wonder ad agencies have a trust rating below politicians. With hundreds of award shows out there, we shouldn’t be surprised if clients are wary of our claims of 100% dedication on helping their business when it appears we’re really dedicated to advancing ourselves.  

When I started in the business, I was told by my creative director that gold and silver were all that mattered. To survive at the agency you had to win in the shows. Was that what was told to the clients as well? If so, perfect. But I never saw that goal written on a brief under the ad’s objective.   

Judges are big award winners themselves – that’s how they got to be judges. They know how to build award-winning ads. Talented and smart as they are, though, they don’t know our target as well as we do and they don’t know precisely what the client wanted to accomplish. So how are they going to judge the merit of our work? In effect, they don’t know the real score. So what is the value when they hand out that chrome- headed gargoyle? 

I just might start a new show– everyone is a guaranteed winner. No losers. Completely, single-minded and true. Don’t even bother sending in the ads. Just send your fifty buck entry fee and you too can bring home a shiny new statuette. Ladies and gentlemen, I present: the EGOs.

Look away to find your best work

May 11, 2009

Written by: Michael Mark creative director/ceo on Creating a grow! culture and grow! ideas.

Hard as you try, sometimes you can’t get a good idea.

Deadlines acartoon%20eyesre fire-breathing dragons and as they approach two things happen: you work harder at it, struggle, and you tighten up. Sometimes the harder work gets you there. Lots of times the fear ignites an idea; other times only a case of the hives.

You can’t always hunt down a grow! idea.

You can’t demand a solution of immense focus and power appear.

And yet that’s what you’re paid for. So when you’ve tried everything else, here’s another way.

Let the idea come to you.

You have to trick the idea out of hiding in your subconscious.

This requires an act of trust.

Because to do your work you have to do other work.

Doesn’t matter what – as long as you do it with full purpose.

You can’t fake it. The idea won’t come if you are looking for it with even a nano-tenth of your concentration. It will know, clever bugger.

You have to be totally committed to the excellence of this new act. It has to become your primary mission in order for your subconscious to relax enough to release the idea you were originally so desirous of.

Yeah, and all the while, the dragon’s breath begins to singe your last paycheck.

Trust isn’t worth much unless it’s challenged.

I find at these time it’s best to do something physical, something with movement, that has intricacies which demand focus. Keeps the dragons out of mind. 

For me, it’s gardening but it could be another assignment you have, golf, walking, praying, dancing, cooking, sex, house cleaning. (Convincing your boss you’re working at these times is another problem but if you come back with great work she’ll understand.)

Again, you gotta do this with the same energy as you applied earlier to getting that idea.

You have to trick yourself into forgetting you are looking for the idea.

Your subconscious will be all over that. You have to know that when the idea presents itself you will be there to admire it, cajole it over and nail the sucker.

In truth, the idea was always right there. You just couldn’t see it.

By looking away I have found it will become obvious.

And the dragon –– well it’s not so scary any more.

What is creative anyway?

March 12, 2009

By Dave Huerta,

Vice President, Associate Creative Director @ NYCA


Well, very simply, it’s whatever causes a consumer to think,

feel or act in a positive way toward your brand, product or service.


But great creative is that which connects on a much deeper subconscious,

involuntary level and causes change. Like when you put your hand in 300px-incandescent_light_bulbfreezing water or over a flame or when you have an itch.


Remember the last great movie you saw? Most likely you don’t remember scenelighting or camera moves or that you were sitting in a theater watching actors deliver lines.


What you remember is the story or message – the movie’s essence.


When this happened, you were changed.


Every brand or product has an essence too.


What we do is find it, or if it already exists, we brush it off, and tell its story in a meaningful way to your consumers.



When we do that, they’re changed.

And when they’re changed, that’s creative.