Why I chose Jefferson Avenue over Madison Avenue

Credit: Pixabay

When I announced I was moving to Detroit after 15 years at a top Madison Avenue ad agency, many thought I had a momentary lapse of consciousness. The first response is generally one word (delivered with a whiff of disdain) “DETROIT?!” It’s no wonder “Detroit vs. Everybody” has become a cultural movement.

Then, the unthinkable happens. Two minutes into explaining my decision, most people usually say, “Can I come?”

While I’d like to think I’m terribly persuasive, the facts speak for themselves. Detroit is not the cold, rusty, post-industrial city New Yorkers – and practically all non-Detroiters – imagine. The city’s creative spirit is very much alive and thriving, bringing together world-class storytellers, entrepreneurs and makers that can inspire, craft and produce the next great brand building ideas. In a modern world where brand storytelling sits at the intersection of art and science, most Madison Avenue agencies are still stuck at the 150-year-old intersection of media and messaging. Detroit is anything but stuck in the past.

Today the sparks of inspiration in music, technology, art and science generally aren’t born in NYC – although it’s still a pretty great place to raise capital for them. Eureka moments are constantly being hatched in Detroit, Tel Aviv, Las Vegas, London, Atlanta, Stockholm, Marina del Rey, Austin and a host of other so called “second cities.” And now more than ever, Middle America is having its moment.

One of the biggest challenges for New York agencies is the cost of talent, cost of living and cost of real estate makes surrounding ideas with the best people, technology and facilities increasingly difficult. At Doner, we’re taking a different approach by opening our agency doors around the world to start-ups, filmmakers and tinkerers hungry to partner with brands. While other agencies are buying 3D printers and claiming to have a maker culture, we’ve built a real-time content engine and true maker culture with soundstages, 25 edit rooms, and inspirational collaboration studios. We even rented an apartment to create a food styling kitchen where we film 24/7 content for brands like Bush’s, Nestlé, Smithfield, Minute Maid and Food Lion.

Detroit isn’t just considered the “new Brooklyn” for the facial hair. It’s become a mecca to artists, designers and musicians. Downtown Detroit is rising like a Phoenix with state-of-the-art sports arenas, a restaurant and arts scene that rivals Williamsburg, and construction as far as the eye can see.

Detroit is a place where new ideas are constantly being born, brought to life and shared throughout the community, like Slow Roll bringing together 3000 cyclists to roll through different Detroit neighborhoods every Monday night, and The Empowerment Plan designing coats for those living in the streets. It’s where Shinola was born from transforming an abandoned factory into a craft watch company that rivals the Swiss, and where Ponyride turned the foreclosure crisis into an inexpensive space for socially-conscious artists and creative entrepreneurs.

Even the UN has taken notice, naming Detroit North America’s only UNESCO City of Design, joining 47 cities from 33 countries. With this distinction, Detroit joins a worldwide network of cities committed to investing in creativity as a driver for sustainable urban development, social inclusion and cultural vibrancy.

But for all its magic, Detroit has yet to stake its claim as a creative hub in our industry. When people think Detroit, they think we only do automotive. When people think of where you go to build an advertising career, they don’t think Detroit. That’s something I want to help change.

Brands need and want the voice of Middle America more than ever before, and that spirit and those values can only authentically come from a culture of people plugged into that zeitgeist.

A culture where technology leaders drive pickups, social experts are soccer moms and designers keep a hunting calendar next to their Pantone books.

Equally exciting is how the spirit of Motor City ingenuity lives in our other offices around the world. As a micro-network, we’re not just adding dots on a map, we’re adding talent hubs where technology is erasing barriers and where time zones melt away to allow us to be an always on spigot of content and ideas.

For years, I have struggled to answer my clients’ pleas to give them more content, and to do it better, faster and cheaper. In New York, I made excuses. In Detroit, I can make S#@! happen.

My heart kept me on Madison Avenue for half my career, and I don’t regret a day of it. But today marketers and brands face unrelenting challenges and a future of incredible opportunity, and I’m thrilled to help answer them from a new (and perhaps unexpected) address.

Eric Weisberg is global chief creative officer at Doner. He tweets @eweisberg

Join us, it's free.

Become a member to get access to:

  • Exclusive Content
  • Daily and specialised newsletters
  • Research and analysis

Join us, it’s free.

Want to read this article and others just like it? All you need to do is become a member of The Drum. Basic membership is quick, free and you will be able to receive daily news updates.