Founding Partner and Global Creative Officer at agency Anomaly talks about why you should never underestimate people in the ad business.
Why The Power Of Human Connections Is The Key To Selling Ads
Text by Dory Carr-Harris
The expansive New York outpost of global advertising firm Anomaly spans several bustling floors inside a classic building in the Soho neighborhood. The steady stream of activity on the city streets is matched by the intensity of focus in the office, where Mike Byrne stands out with his warm, affable demeanor. Quick to offer a joke, he doesn’t seem like the same man who has won multiple awards from Clios to Cannes Gold Lions, and who has wowed everyone from the top executives at Nike to Jerry Seinfeld.
A Founding Partner and the Global Creative Officer at Anomaly, Byrne is in charge of a team of 120 employees, working across five cities: New York, Shanghai, London, Toronto and Amsterdam. He has been working there for seven years and is still seeking new ways to impress and energize the various clients they work with including ASOS, Budweiser, Converse, Diageo, Google and P&G.
Byrne is one of the most creative minds working in advertising today. He was ranked 30 on DETAILS ’50 Most Influential Men Under 40′ list in 2002, and in 2003 was voted the third best copywriter in the world by Shoot magazine. To remain relevant and dominant in this rapidly-changing landscape requires endless innovation and an ability to come up with a continual flow of new ideas. PSFK sat down with Byrne to discuss his definition of creativity, how he fuels his own, and what is needed to maintain a fresh outlook every day. Byrne also shared the secret to staying humble and keeping a clear head in this business.
As we chatted, I came to understand why Byrne moved from Portland—where he was working at another award-winning agency, Wieden + Kennedy—to New York.
“The lure of New York City. I’d lived here before and I loved it. What’s that Sinatra song? ‘If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.‘ But I think you have to keep making it here. I love the energy of it. I wanted to challenge myself and scare myself.”
It does not, therefore, come as much of a surprise that Byrne attributes much of his creativity to the city itself, and cites much of his inspiration as flowing from the multitude of stories that are being lived out every day on NYC’s chaotic streets.
“I think I just have my antenna up all the time. It might be something that you say. It might be sitting in traffic in the car and overhearing a conversation.” But the main center of interest for Byrne is not the stories, but the people who are the actors of these many plot lines:
“I think the number one thing that I do, and have done subconsciously since I was a little boy, is to people watch. It’s like, “I wonder what she does for a living and where is she going right now? What’s in that bag? Is she happy or sad?” Or like, “What are those guys doing? Are they having an argument? Are they in love? Are they not? Movies, books, conversations. Nothing beats people watching.”
This intense interest in human behavior may have been the subconscious precursor for Byrne’s foray into advertising, but whether or not it was intentional, it is definitely the driving force behind the way he views his role in the business today, and that is, understanding the needs and wants of people, and speaking to those desires with the creative campaigns that Anomaly creates. Byrne wants to reach people on a level, one where they feel they are being listened to. Byrne is enraptured by “the psychology of behavior and people—we’re all insecure, we’re all looking for answers and we all want love and we all want joy and we all want meaning,” and in whatever small way he can, Byrne is trying to provide that.
These human problems are the challenges that drive his work and serve as the framework for every project he undertakes. “I think creativity is the act of solving a problem, and using everything around you as points of connection. I think creativity requires your brain to work on many channels and be incredibly agnostic, open, and welcoming.”
Openness is key, as Byrne believes that an ability to see what he calls ‘the influences that came before’ is responsible for his ever-replenishing stream of creative juices and helps him stay grounded in an industry where ego can get in the way of doing great work.
“You are touched by so many people before you come to a thought, because there are all these different things that are just constantly churning and spinning and influencing and inspiring.”
Being aware of the multitude of creative elements that have subconsciously influenced one’s decisions and ideas—the people who invented the English language, who built the building you work in, who farmed the food you ate for breakfast—and being open to the helping hand that they give to your ideas, will in the end make a person more receptive to various sources of inspiration and aid them in coming up with richer and more multi-faceted future ideas.
However, even with an open and receptive mind, every creative person can get blocked. When facing that wall, Byrne always asks the question: “What would be unreasonable?” as he believes that is the question that will generate out-of-the-box ideas.
“I think a lot of times it’s just showing the hope and possibility within what we do, and how much is out there. It’s daunting, but I think that’s really the challenge. How do you open up the aperture, and let people go, ‘Holy shit, man. There’s so many ways to come at this thing.'”
Byrne has been working in this business for over 15 years but believes that creative success boils down to a couple of simple and blunt lessons:
“This is a business of relationships first and foremost. If you’re my client, and you just think I’m a jackass, it’s going to be very hard for you to buy something from me. Don’t underestimate the people in the room in this business ever. Ultimately, you’re just talking to yourself if you’re not talking to somebody else.”
This hearkens back to the importance that Byrne places on the human element of any business deal as a way to strengthen relationships and build trust.
“If you’re earnest and you’re open, and you can be yourself and admit when you’re wrong, then I’m going to trust you, and like you. You’re not going to buy anything from anybody who’s not enthusiastic, about their own idea. The ability to articulate your idea to other people, and to be excited about selling. I think that’s it.”
Images by Catalina Kulczar
Explore the image gallery inspired by the conversation with Mike on Moodboard by iStock.