Madison Avenue Needs Wall Street Wisdom

eric-harris9/11 was life-changing for Eric Harris. Before the tragedy, he was a director at the investment bank Merrill Lynch. Afterwards, however, he decided to pursue his lifelong dream of founding an ad agency, and that’s when 6IX on Madison Avenue was born.

Wearing a casual polo shirt, jeans and an old backpack, Harris doesn’t look like your typical ad exec, especially one who created the “Beyoncé True Star” campaign for Tommy Hilfiger and the digital platform for Pepsi’s award-winning “We Inspire” campaign.

Being awarded as The Innovatory by The ADCOLOR Industry Coalition (AIC), Harris hasn’t had a linear career path in advertising. After receiving his MBA from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, Harris worked as director of investment banking at Merrill Lynch for more than nine years until 9/11 attacks happened in 2001.

“9/11 struck me like a lightning bolt. When I walked out of the World Financial Center, I started to think about if investment banking was really what I wanted to do as my life career,” Harris recalls. “I always wanted to start my own business. I worked with a number of small-to-medium-sized companies, so I knew what it took to have a successful business.”

In 2003, Harris decided to leave Merrill Lynch and start his own music marketing business, where he built a digital platform to let musicians have their own online profiles.

“YouTube didn’t exist at the time. The majority of musicians used MySpace to communicate with each other,” Harris says. “So we wanted to let artists have their own URLs and create cool, clean and user-friendly profile pages online.”

Two years later, Harris grew his music marketing business to a more integrated marketing agency. Through his friend Derek T. Ferguson, chief financial officer of Bad Boy Worldwide Entertainment Group, Harris landed a few ad deals with artists including Puff Daddy Sean Combs. When Harris talks about his creatives, the three words – “cool,” “clean,” and “user-friendly” – pour out of him like smooth Canadian whiskey. They summarize his “break-it-down concept” and illustrate his belief that the best ideas are the simple ones.

“When you think about Google, all you’re doing is entering keywords and searching. The idea is brilliant. But the real challenge is breaking down the idea and making it simple, and that’s where the complication comes in,” Harris says, adding that he particularly likes the analytical side of digital marketing.

“In finance, you can do lots of analytical calculations, but when you talk to clients, you need to make the numbers simple enough for them to understand, instead of talking about some crazy scenarios. The same rule applies to advertising. As marketers, we are trying to break down a concept and make it simple in the form of clean, cool interface and typeface so that users can have the right experience,” he adds. 

Harris believes that finance and marketing are more and more intertwined in this digital age. As an investment banker, he helped companies do brand positioning and create shared value; as an advertiser, he does something similar, with different channels.

“In addition, when I negotiate, I know how to get the best deal possible,” he says. “That’s when my banking side comes to play.”

Homepage image via Shutterstock

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