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New York Marketer Gives Way To Midwest Mindset

Posted by: David Kiley on July 23, 2009


By Rob Strasberg
Strasberg is vice chairman and chief creative officer of advertising agency Doner.

I lived in New York City just long enough to think I knew everything.

It’s been said you need to live there seven years to be considered a real New Yorker. Well, I was there 6 months longer than that so I thought I knew my shit (my New York coming out). While there I learned advertising from two DDB legends, Roy Grace and Diane Rothschild, and they knew their shit.

Or so I thought. In 1999 when I told them I was leaving Grace & Rothschild to work for a small shop in Miami called Crispin, Porter + Bogusky, they said, “You’re crazy. Great work doesn’t come out of Miami.” As I told my plans to other friends and colleagues in the ad biz I heard the same thing, “You’re crazy.” A couple years into my eight year run at CPB I realized that New Yorkers don’t know everything. And when it came to marketing, maybe everyone there was too into the idea of New York City to really understand what was going on in the rest of the country.

Working in Miami gave me a great perspective on the United States. After all, geographically it’s almost off the map and psychologically it’s quite separate. I was a mass marketer looking at American culture from a distance.

At Crispin we were tapping into the zeitgeist not so much because we were living it, but because we were studying it from abroad; observers watching the wheels go round and round.

I remember eating a Cuban sandwich under a palm tree listening to Calypso music while “concepting” marketing ideas, and thinking, “This doesn’t seem real.”

About a year and half ago I left CPB for a new challenge. And once again I’m hearing the same statement, “You’re crazy, great work doesn’t come from there.” Where am I? The Heartland. The population center of the United States, where the largest portion of consumers live, eat, drive and play with brands.

For the first time I’m actually living among those I sell to. I’ve been to dog shows. I’ve gone apple picking. I’ve dunked donuts at cider mills. I’ve helped underprivileged families fix up their homes. And my wife works for a charitable organization that delivers more than 12 million meals a year to the needy in Detroit.

And it’s true that Midwest neighbors do bring pie over when you move in. It’s all given me a new sense of consumer values, wants and needs - and what marketer doesn’t want/need that? The work we’ve been doing at Doner reflects it (Decide for yourself, Maybe now I do know my shit, or at I’m least I’m starting to.

Reader Comments

Frank Loweser

July 24, 2009 1:36 PM

This is really refreshing. I too am a transplant from NY to the Midwest. I lik going back to NYC or San Fran to visit on business, but I much prefer living in Midwest where I don't spend hours and hours stuck in traffic each day.

My prediction is that many midwestern towns will see comebacks in the next 20 years as baby boomers take their insufficient nest-eggs and find cheaper places to live away from the coasts.


July 24, 2009 1:42 PM

Thanks or this, Rob. I remember the buzz that went through the underground of disheartened Detroit creatives when news spread that you were coming. No matter how much of a renegade creative you are at your core, it's easy to believe that Midwest creative is somehow never what it could be if it had been conceived in LA, NYC, London . . . rather than at a bowling alley over a PBR.

The war paint came back out when they saw that you saw something here. Enjoy your Midwest Summer. If you visit Petoskey with the rest of us, pack your mismatched plaid.



July 24, 2009 2:07 PM

You're right, but unfortunately, many in the creative industries firmly believe good work only comes out of New York. Good creative work can't come from the Midwest, they'll tell you. I'm from Detroit, and I heard it all the time.

July 30, 2009 10:05 PM

I'm originally from Detroit and about 20 years ago I moved to one of the most flyover states in the country. Minnesota.

There are some amazing marketing people here. I always find it amusing when I talk to New Yorkers or LA-types who think nothing of value comes from anywhere in between.

Except, as you so correctly pointed out, the vast majority of the people they are trying to sell to live here in the "flyover" states.

Most of the people I know in the marketing industry here just scratch their heads when they see the crap that comes out of New York.

Just because the agencies in New York are big, doesn't mean they have a clue what most Americans want. From watching the ads and commercials coming out of there, I'd say they're pretty clueless.

They've sold big business a bill of goods. The really innovative, cutting edge thinking doesn't come from overly-comfortable rich people sitting in over-stuffed chairs with a great view of New York.

It comes from gritty, tough, in the trenches small marketing agencies scattered all across the US who look at the people in their neighborhoods, their schools, their churches and sitting around picnic tables in their backyards to figure out what Americans really want.


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News, opinions, inflammatory meanderings and occasional ravings about the world of advertising, marketing and media. By marketing editor Burt Helm, Innovation Editor Helen Walters, and senior correspondent Michael Arndt.

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