Former ADMA 30Below Winner Reminisces On Trip Around New York Agencies

Former ADMA 30Below Winner Reminisces On Trip Around New York Agencies

With entries now open for this year’s ADMA 30Below competition, last year’s Young Marketer of the Year, Allister Hercus (pictured left above), shares his thoughts on the agencies he visited during his prize winning trip to New York City.

Kim Carter
Posted by Kim Carter

Working as a strategist in a media agency, I often find it difficult to describe my job to people who aren’t in the industry. I’ll usually just say, “I work in advertising” and hope they don’t ask any more questions. But they always have one question: “Is it anything like Mad Men?” I’ll usually respond with “In more ways than you might expect”, to make my job sound mysterious.

Having been awarded ADMA’s Young Marketer Of The Year in 2014, I was fortunate enough to be sent over to NYC to spend five days with five different agencies. This was my chance to see if this ‘Mad Men’ thing was still a thing.

Here’s what struck me:


Not exactly an ‘agency’, but certainly one that is now competing with conventional media and creative agencies. Beyond the obvious free food and scooters, I was truly fascinated by the way this place works. Each team seemed to work on projects commissioned by themselves. Their challenge is to gain interest and critical mass within the business to see their ideas to fruition. These projects don’t tend to be commercially driven, which I guess you can afford to do when you’re sitting on such a strong revenue engine. I got the impression that this model is as frustrating [for some] as it is liberating.


In one sense, what you might expect. A giant cube in Hell’s Kitchen full of trendy twenty somethings. We shadowed two creative teams for the day as they chopped together a creds video, and then a multi-million dollar TVC. The fantastic budgets and resources that these guys work with were mind-boggling. It makes our operations back in Australia feel like a start-up in our mate’s garage.


As you walk in, the first thing they will point out to you is their Oscar sitting amongst their zoo of gold lions. Having built their business originally on film and web production, they have chiselled out a unique niche in the industry. We spent a lot of time learning about their start-up incubation initiative. As cool as it was, I couldn’t help but wonder if it if was all just for the PR. Worthwhile nonetheless? Of course!


A quaint little agency [by New York standards] in the heart of Soho. What struck me about Anomaly was their business model. Their agency was built on creating I.P., which makes for some interesting revenue opportunities. But beyond that, they have enough confidence in the quality of their creative product that they don’t charge on a head-hour model. Instead they prefer to be remunerated with performance bonuses. In today’s advertising landscape this sounds risky to me, so I was impressed that they were making it work.


I hadn’t heard of them either. ‘A performance marketing agency’, these guys were very different from anything else we had seen during the week. In a giant building near Columbus Circle, this place had a much more corporate vibe. You got the sense that whatever these guys were doing, they were doing really well at it. Merkle is leading the way in dynamic optimised creative, essentially writing the rulebook on how to build and deliver personalised messaging at scale. It was a fitting end to our agency tours, and probably the one that painted the clearest picture of the future of the industry. I’m still trying to figure out how I feel about this future.

Did I find any remnants of the Mad Men era in New York? There was certainly a distinct lack of huge egos, blatant sexism, and readily available hard liquor. Though one thing that remains is the value and celebration of big ideas. These are still, and always will be at the heart of the industry, no matter what country you’re in.

Thanks to ADMA for the opportunity.

Image: ADMA Young Marketer Allister Hercus (left) and Young Creative Brendan Graham enjoyed their time in New York City.

To learn more about or enter the competition, visit