Washing Dishes to Grow Your Business and Yourself

June 20, 2011

By Michael Mark, Creative Director/CEO @ NYCA

Ask a Zen master how to make your life complete and he’ll tell you to wash the dish. That’s it. The same goes for your business, I would think. Wash the dish. Totally. Feel the warmth of the water. Look at the reflection of the light on the surfaces of things. Let your fingers touch the sides of the knife blade – being mindful of the edge. Feel the flat of the spatula. Don’t think about things – any other thing. These thoughts are just distractions and diversions from what it is you’re doing. So just wash the dishes. Focus and giving over to the act without distraction will enhance your experience, your effectiveness, your life and your business.

This, of course, goes beyond washing dishes. It applies to your strategies, your conversations, all your actions, your relationships, financial spreadsheets. To compare: when washing dishes, notice the different materials that your dish is made from and you better understand the dish, just as you would when researching the demographics for your next product launch. This focus is not easy when you have your calendar backed-up. But if you just do what it is you are doing you will see that these audiences have emotions, behavioral patterns and, in fact, are not targets at all but human beings. And you can relate more deeply – which in itself is a wonderful reward. Then later it will help you to sell to those people. Later.

In dish washing, it’s not just a wooden salad bowl that you need to get clean – it’s taking care of the wooden salad bowl given to you by your grandmother who picked it out in Denmark from a lady who sang when she spoke, you remember now as you wash it. It’s about looking closely, past routine’s dullness, past conventional thought, past your next waiting activity, to being there in the action. It’s not stats it’s the way people behave. It’s your time with them to appreciate their consumer journey.

When you wash your bowl, you wash everything. When you enter fully into any single activity, there is nothing anywhere else — you are not in your next or last meeting. This is hard to do in this time of time-shifting, multi-tasking, life-juggling. But what a relief to be only here, only now. And in the now, you can begin to experience the true joy of dish washing or creating that marketing plan, and your children, yourself, your job, the joy of this moment.

You may even catch a glimpse of yourself smiling, in the reflection of a shining plate or financial plan.


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.


Copywriting is harder than writing, much.

April 26, 2011

By Michael Mark, CEO/Creative Director @ NYCA

I love ideas. Not all ideas. Truth is I am a proud snob about the extremely rare ones that have the power to grow businesses. I pander to those. I’m brutal on the thousands of weak ones I toss away with as much regret as swatting a mosquito.

Ideas kidnapped me away from an intended career of writing poems, plays, TV shows and novels. I found writing prose beautiful, empowering, challenging.

Copywriting is an entirely other and more demanding enterprise.

At the essence of advertising is the idea. The advertising idea, as I think of it, is that intensely concentrated energy form destined to change behavior. It’s not easy to make a person cry or laugh with small black characters crawling on a screen but to get people to spend their money on a product when they set out to buy a different product — well, that takes some deep voodoo science.

Twenty-seven years into it, the hunt and cultivation of that kind of idea keeps me up nights ruminating, conjuring, Maaloxing, celebrating, praying; alive. The voice in a novel is a powerful current running through it. In advertising there are many voices, accents, dialects, languages to harmonize into a distinct chorus; more like a play, in my mind, with stage hands, actors, set designers, producers, musicians — and you must include the voice of the audience, not just listening but inviting them to coauthor, to get the mix just right. Of course, with these many variables, you realize, it is never ever right. This is also true of any writing. Copywriting is just more cumbersome, the odds are more stacked against you. That’s why there are more good novelists than copywriters.

Often, in advertising, you are working on a brand that already existed before you started tapping away to get to its core so there’s history you’re beholden to, invisible relationships that you will need to understand, nurture. Like marrying someone with step-kids.

In copywriting, your main medium is not words. You are working with preconceptions, competitive positions, visuals, the clock, evolving positions, sacred cows, relationships, ghosts haunting the brand from the past. And as high as you raise the volume on your headset to tune out the voices of the world into a powerful harnessed energy-force, you are on a team — a loud, then murmuring, un-unified, insistent, collective with (too often) different agendas. You are involved in a dialogue not just with your audience, but with your planner, your clients, your partner, your medium, your client’s customers, your competition, your own ego. These, more than words, are what the copywriter must work with. And when so many livelihoods are involved, all of a sudden clever just doesn’t seem so important, does it?

Also, unlike in a novel or a play, if you are a good copywriter you never write the ending. There’s no “Curtain gingerly lowers, catches on a piece of light, then darkness,” no “The End.” No “Fade Out.” If you are a good copywriter, you write for the action to continue and you wait for your next cue and you re-stimulate. The brand must go on. Like your kids, it should outlive you.


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.


To make the biggest changes, focus on the smallest things.

March 1, 2011

By Michael Mark, Creative Director/CEO @ NYCA

“It’s all too complicated.” We’ve all felt and sighed that. Life moves fast and can have so many layers, one can get paralyzed under the tonage.

Same with work. With so many channels of information constantly being updated even as we’re analyzing it all, we can get caught up in just staying current instead of creating change. When we get overwhelmed, we can’t be our most effective or happiest. If you want to change the direction of your life, of a company, of a brand, try to focus on one thing only. You have to block out the noise to hear the music. It’s that easy. Sure it’s an oversimplification. But oversimplifications can get you moving — and action wins.  So, instead of the entire web of intricate behaviors, see only the action of a single movement.

For example, since I’m hungry, let’s say sales are down 24% on your global company’s frozen turkey slices. You’ve stared at the data for days and the turkey still isn’t moving. So forget the data, the percentages, the fact that your company produces turkey for most of the meat-eating world, and imagine a single person in a single store passing by the rack and reaching for another brand’s product. Your entire mission goes back from this moment — all you need to do is get that consumer to reach just a few inches over for your brand. For right now, it’s not about the changes in distribution, the trucking contracts, rising cost of turkey feather pluckers, shifting trends in eating habits, new entrants to the marketplace — so much, too much. Just focus on moving that customer’s hand over to grab a cold handful of your turkey. That’s the entire mission.

In all matters it comes down to one thing more than any other: what is that one thing that will make the customer move? It’s not everything, but for this jump-start it is the only thing. If you can bite-size the matter, you can handle it more easily, you get unfrozen yourself. Same in your personal life: if you want to stop smoking, you need to see yourself not as a child being brought up in the house of a smoker, not a smoker yourself for 17 and a half years who has tried to quit and now will lose the love of your life if you don’t. You just have to see yourself simply not putting a cigarette in your mouth. Once you master the image, you are on the way to doing the action, repeating it. Where do you not put a cigarette in your mouth? In church, your kid’s classroom – see that; it’s a starting point. Small movements, no matter how small, shape all things. Small makes a big difference. All the difference.


How a sporting good became an ESPN Play of the Day

February 17, 2011

By Michael Mark, CEO/Creative Director at NYCA

Yesterday a non-athlete, a non-athletic activity, was celebrated as an ESPN SportsCenter Top Ten play. The Play of the Day is the domain for spectacular efforts on the playing field. So how does a piece of sporting equipment make it into that pantheon?

It must capture the imagination. It must tap into a truth in sport and culture and fantasy. Of course, it starts with the product, the remarkable innovation that is R11. It’s white in a world of dark sameness. That is a story in itself. It’s a great performing golf club, perhaps the greatest.

Sergio Garcia at the white-out event in NYC

But what makes this story trespass the boundary of sporting goods equipment to a play-of-the-day is a marketing effort that was completely engaging and incomplete – to allow the media and the consumer and retail to join. A true 311 degree campaign that will be 360 degrees when done. Initiated by an activation plan featuring public relations, mass advertising, experiential, retail – where entire store fronts were whited-out — the best professional athletes, a famous celebrity ambassador who ‘happens’ on to the scene, top level corporate and public support at TaylorMade, site white-out takeovers, associating with a great and relevant cause – all coming together at a time when the golf industry is searching for a way to the future, enthusiasm, passion. A brave voice, a great story told in many ways.

White-Out TaylorMade Tour Truck

Whiting-out retail stores beyond the golf section was a breakthrough. Having an event on the streets of New York with Martin Kaymer, Sergio Garcia, TaylorMade Golf CEO Mark King and Donald Trump in the cold of winter brought together business, golf, the biggest city in the world – in the off-season. Bang-bang-bang, barriers busted, at the premier event on the PGA Tour, the big black TaylorMade Tour Truck was whited-out, the players were dressed head to foot in white and so were fans of the brand on the other side of the ropes. Advertising ran that broke tradition by using famous kid tunes sung by children in the broadcast – in a serious game of golf?!  Yes, “one of these things is not like the other things.” The combined messaging that focused on the fun and intrigue of a renegade attitude of the product, and then supporting the technological leaps and performance founded in the science of the product – we call it the 3 Dimensions of Distance: balancing emotion and the rational.

This is part of what it takes to go from a piece of equipment to ESPN’s SportsCenter Top Ten Play of the Day. Breaking boundaries, from the performance of the product to the communications. A team that includes all partners powered by dramatic imagination. And, like all other plays of the day, inspiring execution. Breathtaking displays, this time not on the green grass of the playing field but on the marketing playing field.

And the MVP – Most Valued Performance indicator: according to retailers, the R11 is “the fastest selling golf club in the last 10 years!”


The last tour on 101

January 26, 2011

By Michael Mark, Creative Director/CEO @ NYCA

I gave my last tour of the agency today. We’re moving this week. Jason, Joel, and Tracey, the three newbies, walked with me, starting outside on the sunny, nostalgic 101, lost in a time of vintage cars, chatty neighborhood diners and bike shops, then inside, walking around the boxes, spilling over with stuff, making the move all the way to the back, the Grove, by the Pacific Ocean where our fruit trees are bursting with winter oranges and lemons.

I give a tour of the NYCA world headquarters to all new NYCAers and long-timers. We talk about who we are: a sales agency;  how we work: harmonious chaos; what is success, what I expect from them, and what they should demand from NYCA. We give this tour to prospects, too. It’s pretty much the same talk, as we all are relying on each other for our mutual growth. We talk about the art on the walls from the gifted people of St. Madeline’s Sophie Center, and why we don’t like our own work in frames — “it’s a working tool, not precious art” — and The Learning Grove. Why we are by the wide open ocean and not in the crowded city. Why our color is baby blue and why we plant a tree for every one of our clients.

I moved more slowly than usual this time, not just due to age. I was saying good-bye and thanks to each touchpoint: the laundry line with our dozen NYCA different celebration t-shirts, the lyrics to the song, “Spirit of Water,” the harvester who reminds us to serve generously, even the awful stain that looks like Africa — and is almost its size — left by someone’s (I know whose) coffee. I explained why we have Frank Sinatra tilting in a too-big gilded frame in a conference room that is called Fargo and why we have another fancy frame cock-eyed around the fire extinguisher: “Challenge the norm!”

We have been here for 8 years and now are moving to a place which we are staging to be more current with the way communication works today and perhaps the day after: for more free-flowing collaboration, more openness and to be much faster, lots more fun.

On the back door that is our front is the word, “grow!” This is our greeter, our task master,  relentless as it is encouraging. And it is leading us two miles south. As we pack, I am reminded that little is essential to take except our creativity, courage, compassion and integrity. Don’t even need a box. We have it on our walls to make sure we do what we say we do: “integrity is better than pie.”

Above all, we are thankful.

Thanks to every single one of you, all the NYCAers, all our inspiring clients, partners who work so closely with us, and every single thing – yes, even you Africa coffee stain! — who took part in our growth, and helped us be all we can be here and push on to better places.

Thank you for the love that made every moment so valuable. I hope you felt it from us. See you not so far down the road.

Got to grow!