'Mad Boy' Richard Kirshenbaum on His Growing Agency and Managing Millennials

NSG/SWAT Moves Further Downtown

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Richard Kirshenbaum
Richard Kirshenbaum

Richard Kirshenbaum was 26 when he and Jonathan Bond founded the agency now known as Kirshenbaum Bond Senecal & Partners in 1987. Following the agency's sale to MDC Partners and a stint as agency chairman, he stepped down and started anew. His latest advertising venture, NSG/SWAT, is now close to three years old and too big for its cozy studio space in Manhattan's SoHo neighborhood. So this summer, Mr. Kirshenbaum as well as his 20-person SWAT team and the Eighty-Eight -- a 20-person social media company in which his agency has invested -- have relocated to larger spaces downtown.

The self-proclaimed "Mad Boy" -- as opposed to "Mad Men" -- discussed career lessons learned, working with millennials and getting on the front lines with clients again. We've condensed and edited the interview.

Advertising Age: We hear you have some real estate news.

Richard Kirshenbaum: I always dreamed of having my own studio and we opened a ours on Crosby and Spring street. It was a fabulous space and we just completely outgrew it, so now we've just moved to lower Broadway.

Ad Age: So the Mad Boy is moving further away from Madison Avenue?

Mr. Kirshenbaum: Yeah, I think so. I mean we're overlooking the World Trade Center. I was in the streets, not too far, when the planes hit and now to be in my office and see it, it's like there's a renaissance in this area. I have lot of younger staff, a lot of them live in various parts of Brooklyn and lower Manhattan so this has been great for them.

Ad Age: You started young. Is your studio made up of mad boys and girls?

Mr. Kirshenbaum: It's all mad boys and girls I never pretend to be a digital native, because I'm not. I feel like I have a certain level of true experience in the business. I think part of the formula that's been really appealing to clients is that it's myself and a whole group of millennials. It's really about being a unit so that clients can feel like they're really getting the best of digital.

Ad Age: What does your army of millennials offer beyond being digi-savvy?

Mr. Kirshenbaum: I'm a very big believer in intelligence, and I mean that in terms of smarts, but also in terms of information. I think of our Rolodex as being Fifth Avenue to Williamsburg, so we can pretty much get to anybody.

Ad Age: So client relations is emphasized in your agency?

Mr. Kirshenbaum: One of the things I hear from agency people is that the higher up in the agency they go, the less attached to the work they are. And it's been amazing for me, after all these years, getting my hands dirty again. I love being on the front lines with my clients and I love delivering the goods.

Ad Age: Is that something you tell your young staffers?

Mr. Kirshenbaum: Absolutely. I've seen a lot of people over the years who are just about dialing it in and you can't have longevity that way. I do a thing called "lesson of the week" with my young staff. It's my way of tutoring them and they also tutor me. They offer great information, but I want them to know certain things about business. I kind of feel like I'm running a university sometimes.

Ad Age: How are you going about growing the agency now?

Mr. Kirshenbaum: I like the intimacy of a smaller agency. For example, in my previous days of running K&B we helped build the Media Kitchen, and I'm not interested in that. We'll work with a great media company like Horizon and say we know what we want to do. In my new model we will offer to find the right services as part of our services for the client.

Ad Age: What about talent recruiting?

Mr. Kirshenbaum: I've always had a great nose for finding talent I think my history of working with people in the business proves that. I was the first person Donny Deutsch hired when he first took over Deutsch and I've had some great people work for me -- Andy Spade, Rosemary Ryan, Tim Godsall. I don't want to overstate it, but at this stage in my life if I don't know who's good then I shouldn't be in this business.

Ad Age: Is work ethic ever a concern with your millennials?

Mr. Kirshenbaum: I think there are two types. The first part is that there are certain people who are going to work out, and it's in part because they have the work ethic and also because they're millennials. And then there are people who have talent but do not have the work ethic and they're not going to and that's very clear.

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