October 5, 2010

Captain Lebowitz

The third in my series profiling digital leaders features the unstoppable Michael Lebowitz, founder and CEO of Big Spaceship. For over 10 years he has guided the company to greatness while exploring places where no-one has gone before. OK, enough of the Star Trek language. Let’s take a look at the man himself to see what makes him such a great captain. Let’s start with a short video…

Here are a few facts. Since launching the agency in 2000, he has been integral in acquiring and serving its high profile clients, including 20th Century Fox, ABC, Adobe, Coca-Cola, General Electric, Google, Gucci, HBO, Microsoft, MoMA, NBC Universal, Nike, Royal Caribbean, Sony Pictures, Target, Victoria’s Secret and Wrigley. His profile on the site goes on to say that over the past decade, Michael has led Big Spaceship to attain countless awards of high distinction. This includes a Primetime Emmy Award nomination for the agency’s work with HBO Voyeur, Cannes Lions, Clios and One Show Interactive Pencils, as well as numerous Webby, FWA, Communication Arts, W3 and Pixel Awards. Michael was also named among the 2010 Creativity 50 and the 2008 OMMA Online All-Stars.

It doesn’t end there as he is also an inaugural board member of SoDA, the Society of Digital Agencies, he’s a member of AIGA’s Visionary Design Council and the International Academy of Digital Arts & Sciences. Not forgetting all his other activities such as speaking, judging and more. It’s amazing that he gets to spend any time at the agency.

Clearly Michael does find the time as they recently won their 50th FWA award for Skittles Experience the Rainbow. In this interview for FWA, as well as saying that he works 50 to 60 hours a week, he says that he finds his inspiration everywhere. He goes on to say “I read dozens of blogs, watch a fair amount of TV, read books and magazines, and try to see movies, though it’s become difficult since my son arrived earlier this year. I also get tremendous inspiration from my co-workers at the spaceship and my friends at other agencies. We’re very fortunate to work in an area of the industry that has such a high level of intelligence and curiosity”. What’s interesting is that at Big Spaceship nobody has the word “creative” in their title as they believe that everybody and no one is creative. In this AdAge article Michael credits the team system in helping to create a culture of cross-pollinated talents. “If all the designers sit together, you get a culture of departments. And departments, in my mind, lead to fractiousness,” he says.

Time for another video, this time from Linda.com where we get an “intimate look at the inner workings of one of the web’s most innovative firms”.

In an interview with Agency Spy we get further insights into how Lebowitz thinks. To quote the article, “strategy, production, design, development are some of the keywords Lebowitz used to describe what his company does. His job is to contextualize, to facilitate communication and does so by participating in nearly every project”. But, he says, without micromanaging his “superstars.” When he started out there was a “big realisation” that the bigger agencies were producing terrible work yet there was brilliant people working there. “The bigger the company”, he said, “the harder it is to consistently take on work that keeps everyone happy, and produce work that’s top quality”. “Never repeat yourself”, says Lebowitz, “referring both to the type of jobs taken on and their execution”. Read the full article here.

HBO Voyeur has to be one of Big Spaceship’s crowning achievements winning awards across the globe from a gold Cyber Lion to gold Clios. Yet after winning big Michael Lebowitz (as reported in on the CREATIVITY website) “famously chided BBDO (and Cannes) for what he felt was Spaceship’s slight in the awards draw for its work on the HBO “Voyeur” campaign, he went on to criticize the current digital vs. agency divide”. Also in Creativity he wrote: “Digital agencies are pushing for (and, in my opinion, deserve) greater ownership of the overall consumer experience.”

In the end Michael believes that it’s “all fun and games” as we see from this article on Apple. To quote the article, “we’ve earned a reputation for innovation, so we get to do incredibly fun stuff for great brands,” he says. “We’re not a traditional graphic design company — we’re always thinking about new ways to engage with people.” The article finishes by saying that they have succeeded because they make interactive marketing fun. “We like making people laugh, and we like making people scared,” says Lebowitz. “Evoking emotion is high on the list. And we love the ‘aha’ moment. If you can make somebody say, ‘Oh! I’ve never seen anything like this before,’ or ‘I wasn’t expecting that.’ We thrive on that. That’s the best kind of impact we can have.”

Follow Big Spaceship on Twitter.

Read my other profiles of: Lars Bastholm and Tom Eslinger