Maybe the garden can make Schwarzenegger an honest man

May 24, 2011

By Michael Mark, CEO/Creative Director @ NYCA

Why do these muckety-mucks muck up their jobs and their reputations, their loved ones lives and their own? Governor Schwarzenegger has an affair with his family housekeeper; Strauss-Kahn, the head of the IMF, comes out of the shower, sees a hotel maid, has a few minutes before his flight and allegedly forces himself onto her. New York Governor Eliot Spitzer works up an $80K bill for prostitutes. All of these men are married, by the way. And as Bernie Madoff showed us, it’s not just about sex: he financially screwed everyone. It’s abuse of power. It wasn’t that these men didn’t think they would get caught. It had nothing to do with thinking. They didn’t feel enough, they didn’t care enough. They didn’t feel connected enough to their promises as husbands, connected to their promises, fiduciary or otherwise. They didn’t feel beholden to their responsibilities.

I submit that gardening could teach them all a lesson about connection.

In the garden, these big shots, holding a single seed that one day could be a fruit tree that could feed their families, would know soon enough that they are not bigger than anything else. They would learn helplessness when dealing with the all-powerful weather, which has no time for political speeches, fools-gold promises, threats. They would learn to truly nurture, not merely take a one-time oath, watering regularly, fertilizing properly (ok, they have some background in this category), again and again. This is what it takes to have a healthy relationship — getting down on your knees, as it were. And even if they don’t feel it in their souls (they have them, I am sure), the physical repetition might summon commitment, or perhaps surface empathy, and if not, the constant trimming, grooming, will let them know that they must clean up their own mess. Humility will serve the ones who have mis-served.

To think of it, this might be easier for the politicians, it’s a more positive form of mud-slinging.

Being the center of attention is the most precarious place to be, ironically. Too much attention causes disconnection. These people need grounding. We all do.


Manny Ramirez Strikes Out as a Hero

April 11, 2011

By Michael Mark, Creative Director/CEO @NYCA

This past Friday, April 8, 2011 Manny Ramirez suddenly retired due to allegations that he was using illegal, game-enhancing drugs for the third time in his career. We first ran this blog in May of 2009. We figure another look at values and integrity was worth a second read, even for Manny fans.

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Full disclosure: I never liked Manny Ramirez. Not when he was a hero of the Red Sox Nation. Not now as a Dodger.  Not because he was good at playing baseball because I do have an appreciation for his machine-oiled swing and his carefree clutch play. But Manny being Manny was two too many Mannys for me.

Manny Ramirez

So that takes me to a news show the other day reporting that Manny Ramirez’s Dodger jerseys are being bought at a record pace since the news broke of his steroid violation. He’s been suspended for 50 games but sales on Manny mania is up.

Tell me, why would anyone want Manny Ramirez’s name on their back – even more now than before – after he was cited for illegal drug use?

Full disclosure number two: I feel the same way about A-Rod. And anyone else who cheats in or out of a Yankee uniform.

I have no issues with success and the riches and fame earned from it if one gets famous for doing decent things, for winning fair. You don’t have to be a working class guy to be a hero. Talent and fame aren’t enough to make you a person to look up to. You can be admired for your physical beauty and social powers but to become a hero, character should count more than homers.

So here’s to the heart-pounding excitement of playing by the rules.

To the miles after miles of straight and narrow.

To delivered-as-promised accountability.

To doing the right thing. Even when no one is watching. And when they are.

Here’s to the guy who holds his trash to toss it in the garbage can and picks it up and tries again when he misses a fall-away jumper. With no stadium, no cheers, no two fingers to the lips and up to the heavens when it goes in.

Here’s to celebrating ordinary goodness at a time when celebrity is so prized and so attainable.

Here’s to aspiring to be that kind of everyday hero.

Hallmark ought to make a day for it.

Everyday Hero Day.

When you care enough to send the very best to those who care enough to always do their best.

Goodness doesn’t need a posse.  If a good act is executed and no one sees it each of us is made better.

It’s easy to see a ball smashed in the ninth inning fly over the wall to win the game. Should you miss it, they will replay it on the jumbo screen, on the sports shows, on the local news, in the paper, online, in the blogs, fan sites.

You think we can tell goodness without a batting average? Without a stage or if it didn’t step out of a limo in a $1,000 suit?

This requires more action on the spectator’s part.

We have a responsibility to see, point out and to judge who we each want to put on the pedestal. If anyone.

My heroes’ names might not be in lights above all others. Some are, though.

She may not be able to sing or dance or run at record speed.

He may not have the mind to understand advanced strategy.

And, then again, they may have all of that. They may be famous for their talent and a nobody for their deeds.

They may be famous for their goodness. Like I said, being famous for doing the right thing is a good thing. It inspires more good stuff since fame is such an aspiration.

Give me the common good guy.

I will be proud to wear his jersey.

I will wait outside his workplace for his autograph.

I will point him out to my kids.

And put his poster over our bed (especially if my wife thinks he’s sexy).

You do the right thing under the intense pressure of an ordinary day or in the dark when the spotlight is off then you’ll have my respect and my thanks.

Now it may not be worth millions so I will also send you a hero card.


Kind, but no hero.

May 10, 2010

By Michael Mark, Creative Director/CEO @ NYCA

I received this article from several associates. They know I am interested in integrity and golf so, in Avatar lexicon, thanks for “seeing me.”

This is the story of two collegiate golfers going into the playoffs; the winner would get into Nationals. One of the players was already going to the finals because his team had won. The other, though he’d had a wonderful golf career, had never gotten to the finals, and being a senior, this would be his last chance. The story tells how the player who was already going to the finals intentionally hit his tee shot out of bounds by 40 yards, suffering a penalty, and the other player went on to win the hole and get into the finals.

The Giving Trees by Terrance Osborne

I think my response to the article surprised the people who sent it to me. Here it is. I’d love to know what you think.

In my estimation, the player who purposely lost made it too obvious by hitting the ball out of bounds by 40 yards. My issue is one of intention. Hitting the ball so far off line brings attention to himself and his act, and so the gift is about the giver not the receiver. It’s like keeping the price tag on the present for all at the party to see one’s generosity.

The player could have simply three-putted to make it appear that the other guy won. This way the winner gets the pride of victory instead of knowing he was given charity. With this approach no one but the “giving” player would have known. That would take courage, humility and grace and would have earned my deep respect and gotten him no glory.

Imagine being the player who performed this act in such a selfless way, reading in the sports section, if it even made it being so mundane, how he blew it on the payoff hole. What a joyous story that would be!


Golf is more important than money.

April 19, 2010

By Michael Mark, Creative Director/CEO @ NYCA

All actions, all words can lift the entire world.

You don’t need to be in a powerful place to do this.

Brian Davis lifted us up by playing fairly, and calling a penalty on himself.

He lost the tournament.

And inspired the best in us.

Goldman Sachs has employees who took advantage with millions of hard working people’s money.

They got bonuses in the millions.

Two stories of the day.

Each of us must take accountability for our actions – including words, including thoughts.


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.


Tiger Woods is just the world’s best golfer.

December 14, 2009

By Michael Mark, Creative Director/CEO  @NYCA

I am not pissed at Tiger.

I didn’t invest hundreds of millions in him like TAG Heuer, Nike, Accenture, Gatorade and Gillette.

I didn’t even buy his clubs or red shirts.

I did buy into his supernatural, god-like ability to play the game I am completely dedicated to. And he has not let me down. He’s an athlete, I’m a fan. We have our roles. He hits amazing shots, I cheer. Deal.

Some say he let down golf.  He didn’t. Contrary to what his late father proclaimed, Tiger is not bigger than the game. I suppose this is proof. Golf doesn’t cheat.

I don’t think he screwed golfers either – well, only if those girls played golf.

So why is everyone so upset?

Because with Tiger – unlike Jordan and Kobe and all the other athletes who’ve done the same thing – it’s different. Was from the start.

His first Nike commercial when Tiger joined the brand set it all up. It said, in the first person, “Hello world, there are still courses I can not play because of the color of my skin.”

He made it about more than athletic prowess. Tiger was standing up not as a golfer but as a representative of his race. He wanted fairness, equality, outside the game. Fair enough.

There was the even more famous ad that followed, showing kids of all nationalities on the course, repeating the phrase: “I am Tiger Woods.”

This was more than an equipment ad because Tiger was more than just a golfer. Golfers didn’t just want to play with what he played, or play like him (remember Michael Jordan’s “I want to be like Mike” campaign from the same advertiser). They wanted to be him.

But now we see who he is, the personal side of him, and we are repulsed because we thought we knew him so well through millions of stories, videos, interviews read, shared, and commented on, that we wanted to be him. To the kids, he was them. Maybe he was the best of all of us. So when he sunk low, he brought us with him.

We can’t trust our politicians. They lie.

Or our corporations. They cheat us out of our 401K.

Or our banks. They sell us loans we can’t repay.

Or our clergy. They touch boys.

And now we can’t trust Tiger Woods.

So who can we turn to?

Ourselves. Oh boy, we can’t adopt another’s morality, character, integrity? We can’t be what we thought Tiger Woods was? Nope. Get up and look yourself in the soul and ask, “Are you Tiger Woods? Or are you more? Are you you?” It’s okay, you can say yes, you won’t be cheating on him. Tiger’s transgression changed his relationship with the world: his advertisers, his kids, his wife, and us. And, in part, that’s a good thing because it teaches us to be our own heroes.

It’s fine to want to bomb 360 yard drives with a Major on the line. It’s fair to covet his golf abilities. And it’s also good to know who you are admiring and why. You owe that to yourself.  Tiger Woods has been someone very special to millions around the world. He’s done some wonderful things outside golf – his foundation that helps so many children is one. And, yes, he has been caught cheating on his family. Some will one day forgive him.  I think that’s a good thing.

The truth is, even if we do forgive him, he’s not Tiger Woods any more. He’s just the world’s best golfer.


I don’t run my business. Values do.

November 5, 2009

By Michael Mark, Creative Director & CEO @NYCA 

I had my doubts but I’ve come to believe I am a good businessman.  I have no formal business education, no MBA.  I haven’t endured a single course in accounting or management.  I have trouble with spreadsheets; actually they bore me. Math and I are allergic to each other.  I have the title CEO but I don’t pore over the stock pages.  I feel less than at ease with the corporate set when I try to be one of them.  I don’t care about the cost per square foot of our offices.  I do realize it’s important but it doesn’t touch me.  I don’t get emotionally involved with leases – though the fact that they have my personal guarantee does make me wince randomly.  I do care greatly about health care as that is taking care of my staff and their families.

 SynergyBy all traditional measures, we are a successful enterprise. We have grown most of the seven years we have been up and running, with some natural dips and spurts along the way.  My success metrics – they call them KPIs these days — are based on customer satisfaction, employee quality, a thriving culture, profitability and a consistently excellent product. 

But I don’t really run the business. Values run my business.  And they have been the reason for getting us where we are today.  And as the chairman, I elect them to the board each annual session.

We value integrity – doing what we say every single time.  We value honesty – the truth must be told loudly.  We value compromise and flexibility – people need to make room for each other; you get more ideas and have more comfortable days that way.  We value acceptance – we celebrate the mutant idea and mutants in general.  I just have to make an NYCA t-shirt with that on it one day.  We value the grow! idea – the rare idea that is inspired enough to positively move a client’s business in the marketplace.  We value openness, transparency – let all see all; truly, my door is always open and I hope our hearts and minds are just as wide.  We value the present and the future – that’s why we launched the Learning Grove, which teaches grade schooler’s sustainability.  We value courage – we’re brave enough to tame our egos and determined enough to take on the demon of convention. We have value flexibility so, as Dylan says, we “have a strong foundation when the winds of changes shift.” 

I was told, “You won’t be good in business, Michael, because you’re not competent in the intricacies of running a business.”  It scared me so I went to learn as much as I could.

My teachers are many and are always working on me. 

I learned fairness from Rabbis and Priests with whom I studied.  I learned love from my family; I got a graduate degree from my grandmothers. Generosity came from lessons by my friends.  My wife teaches me patience, though we agree I am a slower learner and need to wear the dunce cap often.   My staff teaches me forgiveness – they forgive me every day.  My clients school me on listening – hearing the message between the words, around gestures, inside the pauses.  My competition teaches me perseverance.  My dog gives me daily lessons in loyalty during our long walks.  My garden teaches me about hope in the face of darkness and cold.  My heroes in history show me how to stare down fear, and travel shows me there are miracles everywhere.  My children teach me humility.  My partners teach me trust.  My reading teaches me that I am never alone, that I will never get it perfect and that there’s always another page to learn from.

My business education is classroomless, deep and broad, and I am indebted to all my great teachers as I continue to be a student. 

I am still earning my MV, Masters of Values.