There’s a section in Ogilvy on Advertising
, I think it is Chapter 3,
where David Ogilvy tells the story of how he started Ogilvy & Mather in
New York. He felt totally lost, didn’t know about rate cards or staffing
plans and he was completely freaking out. So he called his friend J.
Walter Thompson for some help. J. Walter said, “Sure, come on over, I’ll
help you with anything,” and gave David the address.
When Ogilvy got there, he found that the address he had been given was
for an abandoned dock down on 14th Street. Two dock workers were waiting
for him and they beat the crap out of him. The last thing Ogilvy
remembered before he blacked out was seeing J. Walter’s face inside a
black Lincoln town car laughing his ass off. Or something like that.
My memory is a little hazy. Maybe it was in Confessions of an
. Anyway, New York City has always been a ruthless
advertising town. Agencies are always trying to steal clients and talent
from one another. Holding companies try to prevent you from working at
other agencies. The big guys try to crush the little guys. Actually, the
big guys just buy the little guys so the big guys are bigger and the
little guys are nonexistent.
I’ve worked in New York almost my entire career and I’ve seen all this
go on, but I still decided to start an agency in New York back in
November 2010. It’s called Barton F. Graf 9000, LLC. It’s named after
and a gun.
We’ve had some pretty good success in a short time. We’ve attracted some
of the most talented people in and out of the industry. We have picked
up incredible clients like KAYAK.com, Dish Network, Little Caesars
Pizza, and Unilever. In under two years we have grown from two employees
to 41. The success we have had has a lot to do with the talent that
works here and the fact that we all work really, really hard. But
another big part of it is, every time I have reached out for help—and I
have asked for help a lot—I didn’t get my face kicked in. I actually got
a lot of help.
When I started my own place I stumbled into this kind of underground
advertising club here in New York, and they were kind enough to let me
join. And maybe they’re not so underground, but it feels that way.
There’s this group of agencies that are letting the big ones play their
little advertising games while the underground concentrates on simply
coming up with great ideas. I’m going to give Droga5 and Mother credit
for helping to start it. There’s also R/GA, Big Spaceship, AKQA, The
Barbarian Group and Anomaly. And now we’ve got Johannes Leonardo, Co:
Collective, The Yahtzee Girls, and Eric Silver’s new place, Silver and
Gold (Gold, because it’s classy). Google and Wieden+Kennedy have also
done a nice job of attracting real talent back to the city.
Because I’m a scared little boy, it took me a while to get up the guts
to join this group. You can give me a pad of paper and a pen and I’ll go
write you a global campaign. But starting and running an entire agency
is a whole other story.
Mark Waites used to call me a “yellow coward” because I was taking so
long to open a place. Luckily, one thing I am good at is telling myself
that I suck. But when I identify what I suck at, I’m not afraid to tell
other people and ask them for help. When I needed help in the beginning,
everyone in this tight NYC group of agencies said yes.
Before we even started I had lunches, drinks, and dinners with David
Droga, Bob Greenberg, Carl Johnson, Ty Montague and Mark Waites. Even
the godfather of the underground, Cliff Freeman, came by and gave me
some tips. Some of these people I knew, some of them I had never met. I
just called them up and said I don’t know how to do this, can you help
me? And they did. Every one of them shared what they thought made them
different and successful and wished me luck.
I will give my wife Pam credit for giving me the best piece of advice:
just start the thing already and if you fail, who cares? I was trying to
get every piece in place before I started—staffing, clients, office
space. She pretty much kicked me out of the house and told me to figure
it all out on the fly.
Early on, I had a freak out just like David Ogilvy, only this one really
happened. I called David Droga for help and he invited me over to his
place and showed me exactly how his agency worked. I asked him why he
was helping me out so much since, after all, my agency will be directly
competing with his. He said, “Do you know how great New York advertising
is going to be with more and more agencies like Barton and Droga? Do you
know how good the work at Droga5 is going to be with us looking over our
shoulder knowing there are other people dedicated to doing great work?”
That guy’s got balls and he was exactly right.
NYC is the greatest place to be in advertising right now. You can kind
of feel that there is something big going on. The journalist Michael
Azerrand was writing about the rise of the band Nirvana and how their
displaced Michael Jackson, MC Hammer, Garth Brooks, and various hair bands from the top of the billboard charts. According to
Wiki, he said Nevermind symbolized “a sea-change in rock music” in which
the glam metal that had dominated rock music at that time fell out of
favor in the face of music that was authentic and culturally relevant.
“Authentic and culturally relevant” pretty much sums up the NYC group. Right now in advertising you have the “hair band” agencies cranking out the same old thing while a previous subgenre, the “creative” agency, is starting to pull in huge accounts. A bunch of agencies saying we’re not going to do it like it was done before. That’s not only reflected in the type of work that’s being created but also in the way the NYC group interacts with other agencies.
We’re all trying to do great work and we’re all trying to help each other. So if you’re talented and not an asshole, get on a plane to NYC. There’s enough candy here for everyone.