Some will call staying at one agency for over 13 years magic. Some will call it a sign of endurance. But to Firstborn CEO Dan LaCivita, it’s a little bit of both and a whole lot more.
The Boston University alum started his tenure with the digital shop back in 2004 as a Flash developer. As the digital age took flight, so did Firstborn — and so did LaCivita. From producer to executive director, he helped establish the agency’s in-house content studio. Then, as president and later CEO, turning the shop of just over 100 into an agency of innovation, one of Dentsu Aegis’ top small shops, and one of the best places to work in New York City. Major awards have come in the form of Cannes Lions for Mountain Dew and Rolex, as well as Clios for Uniqlo. And it sure doesn’t hurt when an agency brews its own bespoke beers.
LaCivita’s journey to the top has had its pivots, each allowing him to speak at a wide variety of venues. For example, he’s written pieces for Fast Company, and spoken at IAB and OMMA Digital Conferences, among others. He’s even been a juror for the Clio Image awards (helps to have Yves Saint Laurent, Kiehl’s and L’oreal Paris in the client roster). Among his many passions, endurance events with GORUCK Challenges, and magic performances for the children of Sanctuary for Families, a NY-based organization that empowers and transforms the lives of domestic violence survivors.
An iron man who has not been afraid to adapt to the ever-evolving digital era, LaCivita brings a spark to living beyond the brief.
What’s the craziest thing you’ve seen happen in a new business pitch?
I once flew out to Tokyo with our chief creative officer, Joon Park, for a 20-minute pitch. We obviously had a very limited timeframe to deliver our presentation and ten minutes into our pitch, an earthquake drill began. The loudspeaker started wailing, and I looked over to the CEO we were presenting to. He simply nodded at us to continue on. I then proceeded to scream at the top of my lungs over the sirens, while the Japanese translators did the same. It was a comical echo chamber that I’ll never forget.
Have you ever thought you should quit your job, but didn’t? Why?
A lot of people quit their job when they are bored, and that’s never been the case in my career. I’ve always been given new opportunities from Michael [Ferdman], our founder, to reinvent my position and continue to be challenged — growing from a flash developer to my role now, as CEO. This business, and any service business, can be really hard. There are going to be times you want to quit, but at the end of the day it comes down to the people you work with. If you are part of, or leading, a meaningful, passionate team, you don’t just up and quit them.
What’s your passion outside of advertising?
I’ve been participating in GORUCK Challenges, which are 12-24 hour, 20-40-mile endurance events put on by active and former members of Special Operations Forces. It’s not a race, but rather a team-building event that pushes past your physical and mental limits. I’ve learned so many lessons on leadership, communication and overcoming adversity from participating in these events with my work colleagues. You are put in a situation that is purposely stressful, with no control of the circumstances or obstacles, only of the outcome and how you work together to achieve a common goal as a team.
What’s a hobby that you love or would like to start?
I’ve been studying the art of close-up magic since I was 12 years old. I seriously considered pursuing it as a career but never did, so I think that’s why it remains a passion. I enjoy the dichotomy of being introverted when I’m by myself creating and mastering a new effect, then being extroverted for the performance aspect when entertaining an entire crowd with an illusion. It’s also an ironic craft where the better you get at the sleight-of-hand craft, the less visible your skills become – the audience appreciates the effect, but not the method.
To celebrate its 100th Anniversary, the 4A’s has partnered with us at The Drum to pull back the curtain and look at an industry full of problem solvers, creative types and analytical minds. But what keeps them going once the briefs are written, the campaigns executed, and the pitches won (or lost)? We’re interviewing 100 people at 4A’s member agencies — across all disciplines, levels, regions, and agency types — to get a glimpse into what drives them at work and what fuels them in life.