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Falling in Love With Advertising Again

Marc Lefton

Marc Lefton, Growth Strategy and Brand Integration at DiMassimo Goldstein

When I started 9th grade, my first venture into graphic design was an ill-fated attempt to create my own report card. I did not succeed – part of my punishment was helping my mom around the ad agency she worked for during my school vacations. I discovered the creative department, where I put my self-taught graphic design skills to more productive use: making advertisements. I was immediately hooked. I found what I wanted to do for a living and never looked back. I loved advertising. Seeing something I worked on yesterday in the paper today was exhilarating.

The next few years were a whirlwind. Skipping college, I bounced around a few small places on Long Island before I reconnected with the art director who had taken the time to mentor me. He told me I should be an “ad creative.” I had no idea what that was. I visited his new job at seminal NYC ad creative shop of the 90s, Mad Dogs and Englishmen. There I learned that there was a job beyond just laying out ads: people came up with crazy, funny, exciting ideas as well. And they got paid for it!

When I was just 20, I was already working at one of the largest agencies in the world – BBDO, helping work on Super Bowl Commercials for brands like Pepsi and Visa. I spent my early 20s at big agencies in NYC before moving to Massachusetts. At the end of the two years I spent up there, I saw a drastic shift happening towards digital and the beginnings of social media. Realizing things were changing faster than anyone could keep up, and always trying to learn what’s next, I immersed myself in everything new and different. To that end, I started one of the first business social networks ever, Adholes.com, which for some advertising people in 2004, was the first social network they ever experienced.

Upon returning to New York, I still sought the safety of getting a job doing traditional advertising. I still liked the idea of writing a funny commercial or headline for a print ad. I wanted to switch to being a writer full-time and started to shop my portfolio around. I got Mark DiMassimo to meet with me. He looked at my portfolio and said “You’re a good enough writer, and I could hire you to do that – but everything you’re doing with social media and experiential is really exciting – you should go pursue that.”

That’s exactly what I did, becoming a creative director at a small experiential marketing agency where I worked on integrating all the crazy things I could come up with into campaigns for Coke Zero and Samsung. However, that all ground to a halt in 2009 when the recession was in full effect. I lost my job after spending 5 years working on all the experimental media that typically involved leftover budget drippings that clients had to play with after paying for their traditional media addictions. I was no longer in demand at all. Larger agencies still hadn’t figured out how to make money off of these new media opportunities, and I hadn’t worked in traditional media for half a decade.

My only option was to start an agency, because I realized that while agencies didn’t want to offer new media opportunities to clients, clients were still demanding it. My goal was to create a small network of niche agencies that would help growing brands in ways large agencies could not. For almost five years, I ran a hybrid consultancy and virtual agency specializing in digital and new media.

The problem you face when you start an agency with your two weeks severance and no clients in the worst recession ever is cash flow. The profit from one new client was always funding the next new one. The process of finding enough clients, managing cash, and working with talent that could come or go at any time was just too much to manage. After ten years of being out of larger traditional agencies and sapped for resources to make the ideas I loved to come up with come to life, I no longer enjoyed advertising. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I knew it wasn’t this.

Then I realized that there was something I did love about the business: coming up with great ideas. I just didn’t want to do all the other stuff like sales and finance. Of course, the first foray back into the ad world job market, even on an upswing, was difficult. I worked out of a small agency that again had few resources. I interviewed at big agencies that had no idea what to do with me. “We don’t understand. You’re creative, but you also do technology and understand data?”

Once again I was feeling like advertising wasn’t for me. Then one day, I happened upon an article about how some of the failed business models of the first dot-com boom were starting to come back. One of the clients, Kozmo.com had been a DiMassimo Goldstein client and I sent the link on Facebook to Mark DiMassimo. We decided to catch up and he outlined his vision for the agency, which was the same micronetwork idea I wanted to build. The difference being that it was actually built. I lit up with the possibilities. I knew I could be a big part of its success. “I bet you need someone to help integrate all of this together,” I said. I started freelancing immediately and was hired a month later.

I realized that only Mark DiMassimo and Lee Goldstein had the courage to hire me without having a specific idea of what to do with me. We all just knew that as entrepreneurs, we’d figure it out together. My title is “Growth Strategy and Brand Integration.” Every skill I enjoy doing that I’ve learned since I started my career, plus the new ones I’ve quickly figured out have been put to use in my first six months here. It’s truly a place where every day is different.  You have no idea what you’ll be working on – but the best part is you can do what you love, with other people who love to do the part that you don’t enjoy, in a family-like environment with exciting, fast-growing clients. And yes, I love advertising all over again.