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New Yorkers: Hard-ballers or Big Softies?


Harsh stereotypes are often thrown around about New Yorkers, but are they really true and do they filter into the ad industry? LBB’s Addison Capper finds out

New Yorkers: Hard-ballers or Big Softies?

New York, New York… city of dreams, lights, magic, buildings higher than the sun, Broadway, and, well, general craziness. It’s no big secret that The Big Apple’s a big chaotic metropolis but the people of the city are often characterised as ruthless, willing to trample over any colleague, tourist, general passer-by, to get what they want or need. Ok, we’re exaggerating but you get the gist. (NB: LBB as a collective certainly doesn’t believe such stereotypes!) But we were intrigued to see how they translated within New York’s ad industry, so LBB’s Addison Capper chatted with the people on the ground – both native New Yorkers and those new to the city – to find out. 

Jon Collins, Global President, Integrated Advertising, Framestore

“I’ve been in New York for twelve years and I think the greatest lesson that I learned was on the very first job in the new office. It was for a demo sequence in a carpet cleaner spot and the agency producer wasn’t happy with what we were showing her. 

“Do you think you are going to be able to do this?” she asked. “We’ll give it our best shot”, I replied with a smile. Big mistake. The correct answer of course was, “Sure…we’re gonna knock it out the park!” 

I couldn’t have said that then and I don't think I could say it now. But I have dialled back the irony considerably. I don’t know if New York is any more hardball than anywhere else. They don't have the luxury of time to devote to the verbal mannerisms developed over centuries of polite society and which still ring through the streets of Soho, London. They’ve got somewhere else to be and something else to do. 

You don’t like that…? Screw you!”

Mary Nittolo, CCO/President, the STUDIO

“As a native New Yorker, I hate the stereotype of the rude, obnoxious New Yorker – it was never true and is even less so today. And if we are talking about the ad industry, now there are fewer and fewer New Yorkers. Having said that, if you come across a native who grew up here prior to the aughts, it would be a mistake for anyone to interpret their niceness for weakness. New Yorkers are tough, they take no prisoners and have a low tolerance for incompetence. That’s because to prosper here – unless you are one of the privileged few – you had to be more than tough. What we call street smart is what academics refer to as critical thinking and good deductive reasoning skills – you always had to be thinking steps ahead of the scenario that was unfolding. We hate fucking lazy thinkers and we’re not afraid of confrontation.

For a born and bred New Yorker, the city today can sometimes seem like one designed by tourists, with pub-crawls and the suburbanization of certain neighborhoods. This makes it easier for people to move here. As a native, I don’t miss the crime, but I do miss everything else.”

Mike Gullo, Senior Producer, Sound Lounge

“New Yorkers are perceived as curt for the same reason that agency folk get a bad rap: we're under the gun and up against the clock. Non-New Yorkers should know that our near-manic walking pace is not just for the sake of our calves (shapely as they are), it’s to get from A to B in as little time as possible. Similarly, if a client sends an email, it's not to shoot the breeze; it's because something needs to get done! The ad industry is a fast-moving business and there isn't always time to be anything besides succinct. That said, when there is time for real conversation, it tends to be just as free flowing as the after-work drinks. We’re a tight-knit community, and although it sometimes feels like in this city “everyone’s in advertising,” it turns out it’s a smaller world than it may seem.”

Gene Curley, Colorist, Nice Shoes

“One stereotype that’s particularly true is that New York is fast paced. It’s funny ‘cause not everyone’s from New York, but everyone seems to adjust to the pace pretty quickly. But I get the opportunity to work with clients across the country now – and with clients in Dallas they seem to be a bit more relaxed – maybe they have a few less cups of coffee there (I type as I take another sip of coffee at 4pm). We also seem to have trouble shutting down here on time. One of the first times we went down to Miami, our clients down there told us about how they shut down at five (possibly to start partying? But maybe that’s a Miami stereotype). It all comes down to little differences – accents, hours, bagel quality – but really what brings us together in this industry is that we’re all just trying to do the best work we possibly can (and we’ve all been made a little crazy by that drive).”

Alaster Jordan, Editor and Partner, Whitehouse Post (who admittedly got a bit carried away, but we couldn’t cut down such brilliance)

“Hmmm, tricky to say really, since I don’t really know what ‘hard-baller’ means, but I do know what a ‘big softie’ is. Similarly, after nearly two years living and working in New York, I understand about half of what is said and done. That’s a much better ratio than I expected to be at by now. When I first got off the plane, got yelled at by almost everyone that worked in JFK, sat in a filthy cab directing the driver to Brooklyn while being serenaded by a chorus of car horns, I wasn’t sure I’d acclimatise so quickly…

Let’s get straight into the work aspect.

I wasn’t entirely freaked out by this side of things, though I’d been doing the same job in Soho, London for 29 years before getting here. I had edited quite a few jobs here over the last 15 years, and a lot of the best directors I’ve cut for over the last 20 years are New York based. 

That said, it required a bit of readjustment in my manner and language, and it was very hard. I’m used to swearing like a Dickensian fishwife in the cutting room, and spending the majority of the project working by myself, with client sessions being very brief and succinct. It has been so hard to sit in the room all day or week and not subconsciously slip out the occasional word or phrase, that in the UK would be acceptable even in Parliament, yet would see me ‘settling out of court’ here.

People working here seem to spend more time in the office, and the jobs also seem to go on a lot longer than in other cities in the U.S. Last year while at the start of a project, the account director decided that we should work all of Friday night and all weekend, even though he hadn’t yet seen the already-edited spot. That confused me, to say the least. That incident aside, the producers and creatives I’ve come across so far have been mostly smart and fun, so long as lunch is good. 

Let’s look at the human side of things.

New Yorkers are incredibly kind, generous, helpful, supportive and decent. Maybe more so than anywhere else I’ve ever been. This wasn’t always the case, but it seems to be now. Within two months of being here I felt a stronger bond with all my neighbours than I ever felt in 15 years living in the same apartment in London. That is huge.

Most people here are genuinely good and want to help, partly because so many of us are from somewhere else, be it other parts of the U.S. or other parts of the world, and that has been a massive surprise. When I first moved here, I thought I’d ‘do four or five years’. I now call it home, and don’t expect to leave, during my working life at least.

I’m proud to be here, I’m proud of our staff and office, all of which is great, but not very New York, so maybe I need to sign off with something a bit more hard-ball…

Next time a cab driver toots his horn for no reason, I’m going to pull the jerk through the window and suck his eyeballs out. Ahhh, I feel better already.

Have a nice day.”

Mark Knowles, Creative VFX Director, Taylor James, New York

“It's a pretty dog eat dog world where everyone knows everyone and you cant hide from anyone. I think that dog-eat-dog mentality sums up the industry regardless of where you go in the world. Advertising in general is hard-ball. We work with agencies on the west and east coast all vying for the same clients and workload. The biggest difference I notice is the mentality of agencies outside those two areas. Canada and the Midwest have a much more laid back attitude to working and that contrasts to the frenetic pace of NY or LA.” 

Lauri Aloi, Publicist

“Yes, NY is very fast paced. It does not matter what industry you’re working in. If you can’t keep up, you fall behind. NYers are also very straight forward; they cut to the chase vs. batting things around in a civilized way and not really getting anywhere quickly. That can read as abruptness but it’s really just an efficient way to get things done. You might also say that NY embodies the worst of the American work ethic that Europeans find ridiculous… 24/7, with shit work-life balance. It is definitely harder to shoot in NY than, say, Los Angeles. But I think the hard ball idea can be applied more to a profession in advertising, rather than singling out working in advertising in New York. I know two partners at an agency in LA, for instance, who began their careers on the other side of the globe and have prided themselves throughout their career as being the first in the door and the last to leave. Advertising excellence or myopia?”

Main photo credit: Rob Nguyen

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LBB Editorial, Thu, 03 Sep 2015 18:15:32 GMT