Declaring an Arrival, With a Little Help From New Yorkers
By STUART ELLIOTT
EVERYONE recognizes “I ♥ NY” and its variants like “I (Red Cross) NY,” “I (Tropicana orange) NY” and “I (Apple) NY.” An initiative to mark the arrival of a Chicago agency in New York City takes the form of “I (cursor) NY.”
The initiative is called New York Writes Itself, and its focus is a Web site, at newyorkwritesitself.com, where computer users are being encouraged to post stories, comments, rants, raps and other remarks about city life. There is no requirement that the posts on the online forum have anything to do with advertising, marketing or media.
“New York Writes Itself is creativity inspired by the streets of New York,” declares the home page of the Web site, which requests “scribes” (contributors) to add to “the Script” (the collection of posts). New York Writes Itself also has a presence in social media, including a Facebook page, a Twitter account and a YouTube channel that features a video clip in which the New York actor Kevin Conway plays a garrulous, sharp-tongued character named the Chairman.
The sponsor of the initiative — another example of the trend known as crowd-sourcing — is the new New York office of Leo Burnett USA, part of the Leo Burnett Worldwide division of the Publicis Groupe. Burnett is the giant agency that from its Chicago headquarters has created familiar campaigns with characters like the Marlboro cowboy, the Pillsbury Doughboy and the Jolly Green Giant.
Over the years, Burnett has had service offices in New York, but never a full-fledged operation. The office that Burnett opened in February at 300 Park Avenue South is full service, with 15 full-time employees working on assignments for marketers like Bacardi (Dewar’s Scotch whiskey) and Samsung.
And additional work may be on the way. Leo Burnett New York is one of three agencies taking part in a review for the creative account of Chobani, the Greek yogurt sold by Agro Farma.
New York Writes Itself is a signal that Burnett wants “to come into a new market as an advertising agency with something different,” said Tom Flanagan, managing director of Leo Burnett New York.
“In our industry, we always talk about ourselves,” he added. “We wanted to listen before we started talking.”
Agencies from outside New York have found it daunting to establish a beachhead in the city that is so widely considered the home of the business that “Madison Avenue” is shorthand for “advertising.” Some, like Fallon Worldwide, have faltered in their quest and closed their offices. Others — among them, Bartle Bogle Hegarty, Cramer-Krasselt, Mother and Wieden & Kennedy — continue to plug away.
“We were coming into the city that defined our industry, so we felt we should give it something,” said Jumana Abu-Ghazeleh, executive vice president and director for strategy at Leo Burnett New York.
“It’s a way to say, ‘Thank you; we hope we live up to the challenge,’ ” she added.
The idea for New York Writes Itself was developed by two creative directors at Leo Burnett New York, Michael Canning and Kieran Antill.
“Coming out here,” said Mr. Canning, who is Australian, “I noticed that every day you come into the office you hear people say, ‘You won’t believe what I just saw on the subway’ or ‘You won’t believe what I just heard on the street.’ ”
“The streets are a theater,” he added, “so we thought, ‘Why don’t we create a platform where New Yorkers are telling these great stories?’ ”
Leo Burnett New York is spending less than $100,000 on producing and publicizing the initiative. A campaign to promote New York Writes Itself includes ads on billboards in Times Square and video clips on the TV screens in taxi cabs.
“We were able to get some of those assets at no cost,” Mr. Flanagan said, through a corporate sibling, the Starcom media agency.
Also involved in the initiative are other siblings of Leo Burnett New York like Arc Worldwide, the marketing services unit of Burnett. There are also participants that are not part of Burnett or Publicis, among them @radical.media, Avant, Beast and Bill Thomas, who directed the videos with Mr. Conway.
As crowd-sourced content is amassed at newyorkwritesitself.com, executives at Leo Burnett New York will pass the posts onto members of the New York creative community to turn into videos, songs, films and artwork.
The first fruits of the initiative are to be displayed by the Art Directors Club at an exhibit, “New York Types,” that will present some posts as interpreted by local letterpress printers. The exhibit is planned for Dec. 15 through Jan. 6 at the A.D.C. Gallery, 106 West 29th Street.
“It’s a cool idea,” said Brett Rollins, director for development at the club, because “typesetting and typography don’t get the focus that other aspects of the industry do.”
The exhibit “is not just promotional” for the new Burnett office, he added, but will be “a rich experience for a wide audience, beyond the professionals and students who are our core audience.”
Besides, Mr. Rollins said, laughing, “it will be great to have” the exhibit “on the walls for the holiday party” that the club sponsors.