There is creative life outside Manhattan. Yes, really.

By Marcia Goddard

I had one of those illustrative experiences in the office the other day – you know, when a tiny incident speaks to something larger? Two “out-of-towners” were visiting to work on a multi-agency project, and I happened to overhear them whispering to each other – not that I was eavesdropping. “Can you believe the digital resources they have here? The video studio? All these creatives? It almost feels like we’re back in Manhattan.”

Most of us that work outside “the city” have heard words like that at one time or another, though the tone is usually inverted. “Oh, they’re a Jersey shop, we have nothing to worry about.” “We’ll handle the creative, and they’ll execute.” “Do they even have (insert cutting-edge resource here)?” One sometimes gets the sense that the stereotypical picture of a non-Manhattan agency is of a little storefront in a strip mall between Five Guys and the drycleaners, probably with a leaky awning in front, potholes in the parking lot, a bored-looking teenager playing games on her iPhone at the front desk, and the faint aroma of garbage and car exhaust floating through the air. And that anyone who actually takes a job in such a place is throwing their career away to work in a lonely backwater surrounded by second-class talent and with none of the security or networking opportunities or resources of the more traditional agency community.

The reality, of course, is somewhat different. And that reality is finally beginning to sink in to our industry.

Now, before going too much further, we should be clear – the big Manhattan agencies are hotbeds of creative talent and marketing innovation. Many of our industry’s most powerful brand-makers are working there. No one is denying that.

But do the Manhattan agencies, even the biggest and most successful ones, enjoy some kind of inborn advantage over AbelsonTaylor? GSW? Digitas Health? Intouch, in Kansas? Or our own agency, McCann Torre Lazur, proudly officed in Parsippany, New Jersey? Each one of these agencies has won many competitive pitches, launched and sustained major multichannel campaigns for multi-billion-dollar products, won shelves full of creative awards, made piles of money, without ever having to pay the toll on the George Washington Bridge or get a ticket for blocking the box. Our sister agency McCann Echo, out of Mountain Lakes, NJ, has received Med Ad News’ Agency of the Year award and just won a Bronze Lion at Cannes; Klick Health, in Toronto (!), earned MM&M’s Agency of the Year award in 2013. Do you really believe that agencies like these don’t have the very same or better technology in their design labs, the very same or better photography studios and sound studios and video studios, the very same or better commitment to creative excellence, the very same or better number of exceptionally gifted and dedicated people, the very same or better level of strategic insight?

So now I’m going to say something that might upset a few people.

Maybe, just maybe, agencies outside Manhattan have an advantage.

Why? I can only speak for myself here, and all you readers may agree, or not, based on your own experiences. And admittedly, this is a broad generalization, with – I am sure – plenty of exceptions and outliers. But my experience has been that working outside the Manhattan agency world offers creatives something more, something freer. The good friends and the healthy compensation package will be just the same, but the pressure to be perfectly brilliant every day, to sacrifice every drop of yourself to the job and the client, is rather less, while the opportunity to be something greater than your career is rather more. And that, I have found, is the best way to get great creative out of great creative people. For many of us “creatives,” personal fulfillment is what leads to career fulfillment, not the other way around.

That’s why some of those “outsider” agencies have a marker in their favor. Once they’ve broken outside of the Manhattan cycle, all sorts of magical things are possible. Like work-life balance. And nurturing of talent. And personal growth. And a real sense of togetherness and teamwork, something that is often lacking in the revolving doors of the Manhattan agency environment. When you don’t have to be afraid of catching the flu or having to leave early to pick up your kid from soccer practice or making a mistake or puncturing the wrong senior vice president’s ego, well, maybe your mind will have the freedom to stretch into some unexpected places.

I can’t speak for other agencies. But fear or ego are not words that anyone here would use to describe the creative environment at McCann Torre Lazur. Words like nurturing and ownership and supportive come more quickly to mind. That’s a function of our agency’s leadership and priorities – but it’s also a function of the fact that we’re not spinning in the Manhattan cycle. And we like our odds in a comparison between our work environment, our level of resources, our talent, our client relationships, and most of all our work product versus any other agency, whatever the location.

But you don’t have to take my word for it. Just go to the next few industry awards shows. Or the next few billion-dollar product pitches. Or the next MAHF Future Famers induction dinner; five of this year’s inductees work outside Manhattan.

If you are perfectly happy in Manhattan, I wish you success.

But if the grind is grinding you down, if a little voice inside your head keeps whispering, “Is this all there is?” – well, the wildlings are just over the wall.

Marcia Goddard is the chief creative officer at McCann Torre Lazur, a McCann Health company.