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!


Michael Mark featured in Direct Marketing News blog

January 11, 2011

Michael’s perspective, “Creative director is the title, but not the job” ran in Direct Marketing News’ Direct by Design blog today. Read the full article here.


What’s your coachability score?

January 6, 2011

By Michael Mark, Creative Director/CEO @ NYCA

The world is moving faster, powered by information.

Keep up by being coachable.

I know the U.S. has education issues. See Waiting for “Superman.”

But there have never been more quality teachers available.

On YouTube, on Twitter, we can take courses at the best institutions in the world.

One suggestion is to concern yourself not with how many are following you, but who you are following.

When I’m reading and notice a smart comment, I follow the source on Twitter and read what he or she is reading.

We can learn from everyone and we can now learn from the best.

And don’t forget to thank your teachers.

What’s your coachability score?


My, Branding has Changed

December 17, 2010

By Meghan Tetwiler, Brand Planner @ NYCA

How should a brand connect with today’s sophisticated consumers?

Over the course of a few short decades, the playing field for brands has changed dramatically.  Believe me, Hollywood’s depiction of Mad Men martini lunches and chain-smoking brainstorming sessions is no longer an advertiser’s reality.  With their fingertips on the Internet and mobile phones, today’s consumers have access to quickly retrieved information, are in control of when/where/how they receive content, and are more discerning about the information they consume.  This increase in consumer sophistication demands that brands evolve their approach and build lasting relationships.

Static media messaging touting a pithy catch phrase may have been the way for brands to win attention in the past, but today it isn’t enough.  In order for brands to meet consumers’ demands, they now must work harder to go beyond screaming, “buy me” and deliver What’s (really) In It For Consumers. Creating experiences that bring a brand’s ingenuity to life and opportunities for people to personally experience the benefits of a brand’s products and services are now necessary to impact purchasing behavior.

In theory, brand marketers can easily agree the era of marketing plans built solely on one-way communications are no longer sufficient.  They nod their heads when there is opportunity to incorporate experiential branding into their marketing mix.  What is difficult for them to stomach is when it comes time to reallocate traditional print/TV budgets to interactive online, retail or event-based experiences.  I see even my progressive clients struggle to embrace experiential branding.  It’s tough.  Gone are the days when marketing plans can be recycled year after year.

One common first step made by companies integrating experiential branding is that each brand must discover how to connect with its consumers through a shared passion.  This allows not only the tried and true one-way consumer interceptions but also more interactive consumer/brand engagements.

Check out the entertaining, educational and interactive experiences the brands below have created in effort to strengthen consumer bonds.

These are just a handful of 21st century brands that have successfully made the leap into experiential branding.  I’d argue the experiences these brands are creating, from Apple’s Genius Bar to Nike’s Running Club, are personalizing their brand offerings and, in turn, successfully contributing to winning over their consumers’ hearts and pocketbooks.

As this year winds down, its time to start thinking about the future.  I look forward to dreaming up interactive experiences to deepen each of my client’s relationships with their consumers.


Do something insanely joyous today.

December 15, 2010

By Michael Mark, Creative Director/CEO @ NYCA

I make lists, helps me remember, helps me act, helps me feel worthwhile.

I check the item off and feel that sense of accomplishment until the next item I need to do challenges that feeling and round-and-round I go.

Human doing.

But sometimes, the instant act, no planning, no thought, is wonderful, too.

What inspires it? Hopefully a good thing – love, generosity, beauty, gratitude.

You become inspired and you act, no to-do list, just pure offering.  And the energy is big and true!

You know it could be a high-five, a “thank you,” a “you got a minute – how’s your life?” (this works best with people you know), a dance in the middle of a meeting when someone says something great!

When you feel moved – let the feeling take over – show it!

We have some people at NYCA who are just human bolts of natural positive love – they inspire good feelings with their actions every day with their high voltage power. I know for sure everyone can be that way to some extent. And we all should be for ourselves.

I notice sometimes people smiling at me when I take my walks, not only because I’m funny looking, because I am smiling and they are smiling back at me. They think I’m smiling at them – I am, but I am smiling at all, at myself. I like walking very much and it makes me smile. The energy goes round-and-round!

Do this at work. And work instantly is more enjoyable. I dare say, more productive (though that’s not the main point).

When we are inspired to act out, we feel good and make others feel good. That’s the point.

Take action, accountability, take charge of your energy and be a charge!

It takes conviction to break from the inner sanctum of safety and self.

Try it. It’s addictive.

Inspire your life today and the world in a happy, mindless, thoughtful, crazy positive act.


Trick or Truth

December 1, 2010

By Michael Mark, Creative Director/CEO @ NYCA

Here’s a little story about advertising within a story about truth. Our client, Ryan from the UK, sent it to us.

I like this very much for the inspiration to remember we are creating products and communications that have to work hard in the marketplace. We too often get caught up in the success of a meeting and yield to our own desires, too far from the needs of the consumer. In that smaller meeting room with internal agendas, we can unknowingly get smaller-minded, choke off opportunity.

Ryan’s story reminds us why we do what we do together so passionately – to create growth in the marketplace and to please consider who is doing the buying and who we are competing against. Here the agency gave the client the opportunity to feel not like an innovator, an entrepreneur, but a consumer – the role that could help him make the best call for the work. At first it appears like just a selling trick but it is really a wonderful way to get to the truth. A trick, yes, but with a happy ending!

Reminder for the agency: we also need to go through this porthole to understand the consumer, the competitive set, as well as the client’s state of mind. The more we can understand our constituents the better we can all do our work, harmoniously and productively.

Thanks Ryan!

THE TRAIN IS LEAVING THE STATION.

My wife is an art director.

Recently she went to The Marketing Forum.

Being a creative, she expected to be bored by lots of case histories, graphs, charts, numbers.

But one client told an amazingly creative story about the birth of a brand.

It started when he was working in Belgium.

Every day he had to try to sell margarine (butter-flavoured spread) to people who didn’t want it.

It was dispiriting work.

To cheer himself up, every day he went to the same pastry shop and ate a delicious chocolate pastry.

Eventually it became clear to him.

“I don’t like margarine.

I do like chocolate.

I’m in the wrong game.”

Doing what you love is always the best idea.

So he quit his job and began working on perfecting a delicious, rich, chocolate pudding.

He worked on it until he had it exactly right.

Now he needed marketing.

He needed a positioning, a name, packaging, a brand in fact.

So he went to see an agency and asked if they could do that for him.

They said leave it with us.

So he waited.

And he waited.

Three weeks later they hadn’t contacted him, so he called them.

They said “We-ell…. You’d better come in, we’ve got something to show you.”

He went to see them.

They said, “We’ve got some bad news we’re afraid. It looks like someone else has already done it.”

His jaw dropped.

They said “Yes, unfortunately, virtually the same product, same positioning, everything. We’ve managed to get hold of some pictures.

If you promise not to let it leave this room, we’ll show you.”

He nodded.

They said “You wanted a stylish, classy chocolate pudding, deliciously gooey, yet premium? Look, theirs is called Gu.

It’s got the German umlaut (two little dots) over the letter U, so it looks like a smiley face. And it rhymes with ‘goo’ so it’s fun but classy.

A bit like Haagen Dazs.”

The client’s face fell, he said, “I can’t believe it. That’s a great name.”

They said “Yes, and look at the packaging: it’s dark, rich, elegant. Indulgent and chocolaty, but also stylish.”

The client said “This is terrible. How advanced are they.”

They said “Their sales force is ready to start selling it in. We’re worried because we think they’ll be very successful.”

The client said “What do you mean: you think they’ll be successful. Of course they’ll be successful. It’s a brilliant product, a brilliant name, a brilliant pack design. It’s exactly what I wanted dammit.”

And he sat back, depressed, thinking about all the success he could have had if only he’d got that idea first.

Then the account man smiled and said “Well if you really mean that I may have some good news for you.”

The client said, “What?”

The account man said “I made that story up. No one has actually done anything. This is our presentation to you: the name, the packaging, everything.

If you want it you can have it.”

The client said he felt as if the sun came out.

Instead of the usual shuffling, and humming and hawing he just took everything as it stood and went with it.

Isn’t that great.

We never want anything so much as when we can’t have it.

So instead of selling the client an idea in a way that lets him think he’s got all the time in the world to fiddle with every tiny unimportant detail, they let him see what’s really important.

How will he feel if he sees a competitor has done it?

If he’s been beaten to market.

He won’t quibble about the serif on the typeface.

He won’t worry that the background colour isn’t exactly 100% perfect.

He’ll just wish to God he’d done it.

What a great lesson.

Show the client the idea in a situation where he would give anything to have done it.

But it’s too late, someone else got there first.

It’s like a nightmare.

Then wake him up and tell him it was just a dream, and he’s still got a chance to do it himself.

Instead of suspicion and hesitation, he’ll feel gratitude and eagerness.

He’ll be concentrating on the 95% that’s right.

Not holding everything up for the tiny 5% that isn’t.

We’ll have a client that wants to move things forward, not hold things back.

By the way, the name of the client who told that story was James Averdieck.

And he’s just sold that brand for £35 million.


Work where you do your best work.

November 16, 2010

By Michael Mark, CEO/Creative Director @ NYCA

I work at Carl’s Jr. and in my car.

Where do you work? Is it the place you do your best work? Shaking your head, aren’t ya? That’s why we try to stimulate NYCA – with art, flowers, junk food, painting parties, quotes, a grove of trees, questions on the walls. The place is an idea prodder.

I work best in the morning. I tend to wake up before 6 and go hard at it while still in the dream state before the socializing takes over – the daily hygiene, the dressing, and the conversation. By that time, I am normal and less able creativity-wise.

Personally, I love Carl’s Jr. to work. I’m here right now, 6:45pm on Monday. They have great ‘60’s music playing – “Wooly Bully” is on now — and I am tapping with my foot and with my fingers on the keyboard. And there’s electricity here. And carbs and fat. Idea generators.

They have big windows so I can see the world, get the late sun, and be sparked by the people in adjacent booths and t-shirts that say funny things. And I’ve got a big ol’ desk with all the napkins, salt and pepper I could need. And I think, ‘cause of its macho advertising, it doesn’t attract pesky little kids: Paris sliding over a soapy car in a jeweled thong eating a burger is not everyone’s idea of a happy meal. Ooh, “Midnight Train to Georgia” just came on! Love the Pips! That just drives me to come up with something – whoo-oooh!

Which reminds that I also like transportation when I’m working: movement works for me – trains, planes, buses, cars. Maybe I love windows — they help you see outside and in. Maybe because if I can’t get out of my seat, it forces my mind outwards. Maybe it’s the motion that moves me.

Sometimes when I run low on energy, having sucked the place dry, I will move from a Denny’s to Burger King or a McDonald’s to a Panera to tap into a current. Keeps the thinking going.

Anywhere you work best – that doesn’t mean just for yourself but for your team — is the best place to work. Find out what time of day and where and go at it.

Try the fast food joints – they’re full of positive energy – will work even if you’re vegan. Just being near a Happy Meal makes you feel like a kid again. And kids always have ideas.