Process is liberating.

August 5, 2010

By Michael Mark, CEO/Creative Director @ NYCA

When I was a runt, my parents would put me in a playpen to 1) get a break for themselves, and 2) give me time to be with myself and toys. If you looked at it from the outside it seemed kind of like a jail with happy colors and clowns. But as I see it now, and I believe I understood it back then, it was a safe haven. In that confined space, I could let my mind wander, be carefree and be emotionally anywhere — as opposed to leaving me in an open field or a mall (another story) where I would feel self-conscious, vulnerable and, ironically, withdrawn and caged. The boundaries released me; nothing could get me as long as I physically stayed inside the four slated walls and on the bouncy, stain-free rainbow cushion. It’s kind of what Thoreau meant when he said, “I have traveled far in Concord.” It’s what we do when we sit on a cushion for long spells and meditate – we become expansive.

We are changing our process at NYCA again to harness our energies, fortify our structure and free ourselves to create faster, more effective and just plain more content.

I find process is liberating, strange for creativity perhaps. As long as it is a thoughtfully-built structure, it allows us to stretch. Sets the hard fundamentals down and so we play. The frame unlocks the painting.

Could we be Dinosaurs?

July 29, 2010

By Michael Mark, CEO/Creative Director @ NYCA

I am thinking of changing the agency name to Dinosaur. It’s a sound business decision.

I think the name will be remembered, for one: Dinosaurs lived 65 million years ago and they still have great recognition. Two, dinosaurs are loved. How many agencies are loved? So it could help attract new biz. Crowds of people, to this day, go to museums to see them and take photos of themselves in their rib cages. And three, dinosaurs are cool. It’s important for agencies to be cool. And most critical, it’s true about us.

NYCA believes in the tried and true tradition of strategy: knowledge that breeds insights that empower targeted executions and win against stated goals. We are also unfashionably committed to relationships — virtual and otherwise — with our clients, our clients’ customers, each other. Much as we are in to metrics, Gabi’s got a graduate degree in applied mathematics, we’re an emotionally based company. Yep, I know, old school. We also confess we love ideas that grow businesses. Trends are nice but we are a bit geeky about the moment of impact – activation strategies are hot. Above all, integrity — a preacher’s word, a grandpa’s musty rocking chair word — is on our walls. This is New York, one of our conference rooms. Win a free NYCA grow! seed pack if you can guess the name of the other one before we have to change it.

And also — and I know this is totally uncool — we are way into relevance. Not a sexy word, relevance. You won’t likely see it on a sculpted bottle in the fragrance aisle. But we think it’s dramatic, sexy.

“Dinosaur” is a cool name, it’s edgy. I got a thumbs up from one of our developers when I pulled his headphones off and asked. To be honest, his snake hissed at it. Scaredy cat.

Spirit of Water

July 23, 2010

By Michael Mark, CEO/Creative Director @ NYCA

At NYCA we don’t have an elevator to the executive floor. In fact we only have one floor, the ground floor. Right on Main Street. This building used to be a grocery store and, before that, a bank. We chose this place for our agency for one reason above many: this is where people walk to the market, get their dry cleaning, stop to have a cup of coffee and a chat.  Here we are part of the world with which we engage every day on behalf our Clients.

We are a working class breed.

So don’t expect a slick granite lobby or high end designer furniture. Our money is hard-earned and goes to the rare, deeply passionate and talented people that fill our agency with inspired ideas, each aimed at growing our Clients’ businesses.

We have something we say around here; more than say, it’s how we live – “Spirit of Water.” It means everything we do is clear and open, and all are treated fairly. Just the way water buoys us all up equally. It’s about integrity and trust. Big deal around here.

Which brings us to our $700 conference room table. Nothing fancy. Holds cups with coffee, laptops and the tins of late night dinners. Many a grow! idea has been conjured,  tough-loved and shared on and around this table.  And more than once, its trembled under the weight of an impassioned NYCAer pleading their case on behalf a potential grow! idea.

So when an inspired group of art directors and producers came to show their conference table design based on the Spirit of Water, we took a moment.

It was a magnificent sculpture of molded and burnished domestic woods and finely-etched glass with a fountain of spring water running under and through it. Art, truly.

More than a conference room table. This was a beautiful challenge to our creed!

And even, though water flowed freely to all ends of the table, we had to wonder: is this in the Spirit of Water? How is this fair to all when most of the agency won’t be able to enjoy the table? The production artists, programmers, and traffic staff who spend so much time over the critical details that build our work would rarely see it.

Plus this table was so fancy we likely wouldn’t feel at ease working on it, for fear of messing it up with our markers and various forms of caffeine. Now, any detraction to the creation of a grow! idea is an enemy of the state – lovely as the design is. Oh, and at $23,000 – well any Client would have to ask, “If you are so careless with your money, I hate to think what you are doing with mine.”  Our controller would certainly ask that.

It simply isn’t how we do things on Main Street.

So when you visit you will see our $700 table at work. It may not inspire you at first glance but have a seat and be joined by some NYCAers with ideas focused on growing your business and you’ll soon know — just as any NYCA Client does – that this sturdy discount table is testimony to who we are and how we do things. And when we are around it together, pounding out and sketching and creating grow! ideas, it’s the best conference table in the world.

If this is how you want your agency to act, we invite you jump deep and freely into the Spirit of Water.

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.

3 steps to 6 times the results.

July 9, 2010

By Dan Henry, Senior Business Manager @ NYCA

Advertising Age recently reported that clickthrough rates from ads on the iPad are between 0.9% and 1.5%, which is 6X the benchmark for click-to-expand ads on the web. Think about that. Six times the results.

Here’s what came to my mind as I read – will these help your business grow?

  1. Demand a higher level of relevancy. Not only the message should be relevant. Not just the message and the medium together should be relevant. The message, the medium, and how that message interacts with the content it lives with should be relevant. Then your not just asking for something from your consumer, you’re also offering them something. A better experience. Consumers reward brands that provide a better experience. The iPad isn’t the only way to do this, but the consumer reaction and business results at this stage seem to be saying there are benefits of delivering a higher level of relevancy.
  2. Don’t ignore the importance of the execution. All these ads on the iPad have one thing in common. They are executed to the highest level.  Apple is making sure of it – to make sure the ads are in line with what their product is offering – an unsurpassed user experience.  It would be difficult to argue that the level of the creative executions isn’t one reason these ads are performing so well. Of course you want to invest in really smart ideas, but spending the right time and money on truly beautiful creative really does improve results. Apple is a perfect example of this – yes good ideas, but also flawless execution. Our digital age requires us to work faster and cheaper, but this doesn’t mean we sacrifice the details of the execution, it only means we have to work harder at it. We actually have to ‘sweat’ the details.
  3. Experiment. In AdAge’s article a Ford executive speaks of their investment in iPad ads as an experiment. I think it’s safe to say most marketers who are investing in iPad ads right now would say the same. Again, iPad isn’t the only way to experiment. Augmented reality is an experiment. 3-D is an experiment. And here’s one that did both – here and here.  I say experiment smartly, but experiment.

Some of you may be thinking, ‘yeah, but it costs double!’ However, what costs twice as much but gets me 6 times the results doesn’t really cost twice as much, does it? I wasn’t a math major, but am I not actually paying half what I would for the same results the old way?

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.

Alex Bogusky, I think I love you.

July 1, 2010

By Michael Mark, Creative Director/CEO @ NYCA

(I wrote this after seeing Alex speak last year, but was told by smart people at my agency not to post it – “too weird.”  On the news that Alex’s doing something new, I wanted to thank him, encourage him and hopefully not scare him.)

Alex Bogusky, I love you.

Here’s why:

Your delusional positivity philosophy.

Your constant poking at everything, including your agency, your clients, the industry, the work, the media, the culture, your hair.

Your biceps.

Your comfortableness with yourself.

Your response to my email. When I wrote, “Thanks, you did some good for our agency group,” you replied: “Love it. Have a great three days.”

Now let me parse this dense, complicated poetry.

First: “Love it.” Love: Pure joy, exuberance, connection. “It” is more subtle, rich and could refer to the time you spent with the group because we were good listeners, intelligent and appreciative. “It” could be the love for what you are doing now, or more generally, a love of life!

Following this grand emotional expression your words snap into reality, connectivity: “Have a great 3 days” – the 3 days! You tuned into my immediate situation, this specific reference to the time I was scheduled to be in Aspen. You could have jotted off a generic “thanks, enjoyed it” but you connected with my life. And right there – the combination of the emotional with the pointed, every day made a deeper, personal connection.

Alex, you are a great communicator: All with 7 words. Elegant, mystical.

I love that about you.

And also how you live in the moment so you bring those around you in it. And we’re all there in it, vivid and electric with possibilities.

As the industry trades write our obituaries you innocently, knowingly, amusedly ride your bike by the graveyard, wondering why the gloom when there’s so much fun stuff to do.

So it seems, I really don’t know you.

I just love you.

We’re proud to be a sales agency.

June 25, 2010

By Michelle Edelman, President @ NYCA

Some think that sales is a low-brow profession. We are proud to claim it as our profession.

At NYCA, we work as hard on our clients’ sales meetings as we do on their consumer marketing campaigns. The sales force is a key constituent. If they don’t believe, retailers won’t. If retailers don’t believe, our product will be competing with the cacophony of others for attention in already-crowded stores.

Working on sales meetings gives us a completely different view of products and the people who make them. We understand the insight and motivation of our brands so much more as a result. We hear the first questions, firsthand. If the sales force doesn’t understand what we’re saying, the consumer definitely won’t.

We’re honored that our brands trust us enough to engage us in sales meetings. The motivation we deliver in a short few hours or days, needs to last a whole selling season. Lots of our campaigns build up impressions over time. Sales meetings have but one chance a season to deliver the goods.

Top 5 things to remember while executing for sales meetings:

  • Excitement is at least as important as ideas. Motivation is contagious – it exists in the skin, not really the brain.
  • 1 idea, repeated many times. So much information flies around that having simple takeaways makes them embed better.
  • Element of surprise – sight, sound, motion, change of venue, or people acting out of character keep the audience a bit out of balance. This heightens awareness – and adds to comprehension.
  • Ask “what’s in it for them” – bring it into the language of the sale, not the product. They want it to be easier to sell and have less retailer complaints. How does the product compete – what’s that elevator speech that will make all the difference given 5 minutes with a key account?
  • Follow up – what does the sales force receive when they get back to business as usual, that reminds them of those few key things you need them to do and remember?

It’s sales meeting season – and we’re in our element. Call us and we’ll help you out next time around.

A tale of the little tree…

June 22, 2010

By Mark Graham, Traffic Director @ NYCA

When I started work at NYCA three years ago, the philosophy of “grow” was what drew me here. The grove was the physical representation of that philosophy. The grove had plants associated with each of our clients and with agency anniversaries and other milestones. The grove was dominated by a large tree. It shaded our meetings. It sheltered us in the rain. It provided a feeling of tranquility as you walked in and out of the office.

Then one day the tree was gone. The building owners had it chopped down. All that was left was some bark and a few stumps. Michael tried to save some pieces to remember that tree, but that tree was gone. Where was our shade, where was the shelter?

Not too long after, I planted a seed. A seed of a sago palm. Most people don’t realize that it is not a palm at all, but rather a Cycad, a totally different type of plant. Cycads are a group of plants that are very primitive in their origins. Fossils have been found on almost every continent on the planet. What better representation of keeping the history of the old tree alive with than this! I watered the spot. I made sure it was free of weeds. There wasn’t anything there, but I knew where the seed was planted.

As the new tree sprouted this spring, I began to think back on that old tree. It was being replaced right before my eyes. With a tree that was going to be just as inspiring. Just as good at providing shade. Just as good at sheltering. Just as good at everything we valued the old tree for.

Then it dawned on me. The old tree was like an old employee. An employee that we thought was always going to be a part of the agency. She was the go-to person — but then she was gone. Guess what?! The “small trees” are being nurtured and growing to be even stronger. Would my sago palm have grown in the shade of the old tree that we found so fantastic? No. They prefer direct sunlight. Growing the sago palm in the shade typically gives one lanky, stretched-out leaves that are weak. If in too much shade, this species can actually just stall and do nothing. Just as the employees are thriving now that they are in the direct light of their own – they will be strong!