By Mike Lescarbeau

There are 50-year-olds, and there are 50-year-olds. Jon Bon Jovi is 50 and looks really hot. Axl Rose is 50 and looks really...50. Carmichael Lynch had its 50th birthday this year, and one thing was for sure: we wanted to be more Bon Jovi 50 than Axl Rose 50.

The first challenge was just how to celebrate such a milestone of an anniversary.  Despite being proud of our past, we decided we should definitely not mark the occasion with a long look backward. We feared this would only remind people that we could once sing “Sweet Child O’ Mine” without gasping for air or popping any buttons. No, Carmichael Lynch had to celebrate its 50th year with ideas as youthfully relevant as the gravity-defying ass of the Jovi himself. We settled on producing 50 acts of creativity—just cool ideas executed for the sake of cool ideas—throughout our anniversary year.  

We made the right decision. The 50 Acts idea quickly became the Carmichael Collective, a running series of creative concepts that meet at the intersection of brilliant and cheap. We made a bath towel that censors your body parts, an anatomical poster depicting the innards of a piñata and a living trophy that came to life on opening day of baseball season. These and other reckless displays of wanton creativity managed to generate 170 million media impressions for Carmichael Lynch in 2012 alone. The Kardashians were jealous.  

And how can you turn 50 without giving some serious thought to a facelift? Having recently relocated to a very modern space, we opted for the botox of interior re-designs—essentially some new paint and wallpaper. But man did it make a difference. People said our space looked 20 years younger, and one of our conference rooms actually got carded at a bar.  

And then the bands arrived. Dawes, Trampled by Turtles, Mason Jennings, Shovels and Rope, Heartless Bastards and a shirtless Retribution Gospel Choir. They all turned it up to eleven as part of our Roofstage Pass concert series, a mortal challenge to local zoning laws that blasts out over downtown Minneapolis regularly from the top of the Wyman Building.

Oh yes, and then there’s the work. Any agency can hoist up a pair of spanx and give itself a shipshape appearance, but we hated the prospect of panty lines, so instead we leveraged our enhanced creative profile to roid ourselves up with new, highly oxygenated blood. The result is a level of recognition that’s eclipsing many longtime rivals and getting us shots at the very best clients out there.  

And all this because we stayed true to who we were. Yes, we did take a little time to look back, way back to 1962 and the beginning of this highly unlikely success of a company. What we found were several giant sets of balls belonging to the founders of Carmichael Lynch (one set belonging to a woman!) and a tiny ad agency that thought you could change the whole world from a little house in South Minneapolis. They did crazy things. They were brave. They believed.  

And at 50, we do, too.

Mike Lescarbeau is CEO at Carmichael Lynch in Minneapolis.

| More