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How Do NY-ers Stay Creatively Charged in the Hectic Big Apple?


In New York’s bustling ad industry it can be tricky to get a decent amount of downtime… Addison Capper finds out how local ad execs manage it

How Do NY-ers Stay Creatively Charged in the Hectic Big Apple?

In the northern hemisphere we are already waving summer goodbye and fall is ready to, well, fall (sorry). And while some countries use the summer months to relax, recharge and reinvigorate – looking at you France and Spain – others don’t quite have the luxury. That doesn’t ring truer anywhere other than New York. When it comes to working hard and playing hard, the city has the most hard core reputation in the world – at any time of year. And let’s not even get started on U.S. holiday allowances. 

So in an industry as creative as adland and a city as manic as New York, how do locals ensure they keep themselves invigorated, find the time to wind down, and essentially not allow the hectic pace to hamper creativity? Ad execs based in New York told LBB’s Addison Capper exactly how they manage it. 

Christian Carl, Global Executive Director, Y&R New York

“In my spare time I own a company called LEMONSQUARE with my wife. We create housewares and clothing based off our original artwork and sell it online and at flea markets in the city. I also just completed my first graphic novel. And I’m working on a second album under the name The Artificial Hearts. All this, while working full time in advertising in New York. People I work with always ask me, “How do you find the time?” because they know people who work in advertising in New York don’t really have the luxury of spare time. But what I’ve found is that making the time (which typically means giving up an hour or two of sleep) actually energizes me for the day to come. It changes the way I approach my work. I no longer see it as the one thing that defines me as a creative person. And that takes a little pressure off. Leaves me a little more open-minded. And keeps me inspired. After all, in the city that never sleeps, why should I?”

Marcia Lorente, Head of Planning, Campbell Ewald New York

“When I moved to NY people kept telling me, wait, it will bring you down. Your creativity will run dry. You’ll want to get the hell out. But the opposite happened. Here are four things NY taught me on how to avoid burnout:

 1. We vacation to fight boredom. When the brain is bored it stops noticing the brilliance of life. In NY I’m never bored. No city allows for more quick and profound detachment from everyday reality. Get lost, catch that train to Montauk, talk to a stranger.

2. It’s your brain that needs a vacation, not you. Beware of overstimulation. Seek for quiet, the park bench, the church, the tree in Central Park. In NY I learned to meditate.

3. Master the art of doing nothing. As Oscar Wilde said, it is awfully hard. But NY gives you all the options you need. Ask around, everyone is your secret friend. Do something pointless everyday and love every second of it.

4. It’s okay to blur the line between vacation and life. Have no shame for being a workaholic and a permanent tourist. Do nothing without passion. Be a cheap “I heart NY” t-shirt that never fades.”

Chris Brown, President and CEO of DDB New York

"'Summertime, and the living is easy' so says the Cole Porter song. However I am not sure that is strictly true in hot and humid New York, especially in today’s fast paced, ‘always on’ world. So how do we ensure that we are providing an environment for creativity to flourish and for opportunities for minds to switch off in the high heat of summer?

“I have always been a firm believer of Peter Ducker’s assertion that ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast.’ A dynamic cultural program that sits at the heart of the agency is critical for the success of any creative organization. Open spaces to work, inspiring speakers, social initiatives and fun spontaneous events are great ways for a company to relieve the stress of summer. However probably one of the best things a company can provide is to give precious time back to its employees. Therefore the concept of ‘Summer Fridays’ is a great one. The opportunity to head home early on a Friday – either to get away for a weekend or just to spend time out of the office during those summer months, is one of the most popular initiatives that we provide. We all work extremely hard in our industry, irrespective of the season, and to provide some time off at the end of a working week is something we believe has huge merit. Especially in the summer months when the sun is shining! Maybe Mr Porter was right after all…!"

Jeremy Bernstein, EVP, Group Creative Director, Deutsch

“First, a caveat: This may not be the most creative answer as I'm long overdue for a summer break - one more week to go before I'm off to the San Juan Islands for some R&R. At any rate, I think time off is important for creative for two big reasons (and probably countless more). First off, it's really tough to be creative on demand. I often get my best ideas when I'm not trying to ‘be creative’. The best ideas come when your brain rests and has time to wander. Great ideas start in your subconscious and bubble up to the surface when you give your mind a break.

“Vacations are a great way to stir up this stuff. If you can't take a week or two, give yourself a day or two and don't look at work emails. The second reason vacation is critical for creativity is that this is when we get back in touch with what's happening with the world outside of work and advertising. We travel, we take in art and theater, we try new foods, see new things, and we talk to friends and family about things that matter and interest us.

“This stuff inspires us when we get back to work. It changes the way we look at things which, fundamentally, is what it means to be creative. We work hard in New York. Probably too hard. But most people who live and work here, particularly in advertising, have lots of interests outside of work and are quite protective of their time off. In fact, the most productive creative people I know are often the ones who take their vacations most seriously. Guarding their time off and making the most of it. Few of them just go and sit on a beach and veg out. Instead, they take African safaris, go rock climbing, sail the Virgin Islands, run marathons, or pursue other creative passions outside work. It's probably no accident that NY creatives vacation this way. These kinds of trips don't just give our brains time to rest and recharge, but feed and inspire our next round of great ideas.”

Brett Swanson, Team Development Director, Firstborn

“Lack of downtime is a constant pain of New York City overall, but the potential effect it has on creativity in the workplace is certainly one of its greatest threats, not to mention a threat when it comes to recruiting and retaining top talent. To combat burnout and promote a more sustainable work/life balance, agencies must proactively set up initiatives that protect employees from ever reaching that point.  In addition to the typical practices of enforcing summer Fridays, closing the week between Christmas and New Year, and embarking on company-wide outings and 'celebrations', employers need to go beyond the basics and be sure their people have the time to refocus, recharge and find inspiration outside of work. We do things like offer three-week paid sabbaticals to seasoned Firstborners in addition to their allotted time off. We also host internal workshops with external speakers from key areas of interest and excitement outside our own industry. 

“And finally, we are conscious of what we pitch.  As much as a lack of downtime has a negative effect on an agency, being busy doing work that is uninspiring will certainly have even more of an adverse impact. We don't go after business that doesn't inspire our people, we only pursue challenging work that allows our talent to continue to grow. We are nothing without our people, and they are nothing without their well-being.  It is something that is always at the top of our mind.” 

Damien Girardi, Creative Director, Isobar US

“The time we spend away from work improves the time we spend at work. Traveling, being with friends and family, pursuing other interests – all of these things give us perspective and help recharge our batteries. If we’re not careful, this city, and industry, can swallow us whole so it’s crucial for all of us to get enough downtime. And I don’t mean the fake passively-checking-my-email-every-hour downtime. It has to be the real deal. So let those out-of-office emails fly and put those devices down, people!

As for the holidays in New York City, they can be a magical time (Rolfs on a weeknight) or hell on earth (Rockefeller Center on a Friday night). Choose wisely.”

Main photo credit: AngMoKio

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LBB Editorial, Thu, 03 Sep 2015 18:04:17 GMT