How the Steady Stream of Creative Talent Moving From N.Y. to L.A. Became a Flood

The lure of sun, fun and opportunity

A dyed-in-the-wool New York advertising professional, Patricia Korth-McDonnell had heard all the clichés about Los Angeles as an endless parking lot, a cultural wasteland and, perhaps most relevant, a professional dead end at best and career suicide at worst.

Before becoming a partner and managing director of Huge L.A., she had spent a judicious amount of time in Southern California, working on the agency’s Disney business in the early to mid-aughts. She didn’t know the city in any meaningful way, and didn’t think it mattered. Why would she ever leave the Mad Men center of the universe for this overgrown surfer town?

Cut to three years ago when Korth-McDonnell packed up her young family and did just that, planting the flag at Huge with a permanent office in mid-city Los Angeles, just down the street from the giant fiberglass mammoths lodged in the La Brea Tar Pits. She prepared to be underwhelmed by the move, but about a year into it, after working with clients including Lexus, Scion, FX network and Hulu, she had a sort of epiphany.

“I knew immediately that the lifestyle was better, especially as a new mom, but I had wondered if I’d be satisfied professionally,” she says today. “Then I looked at the caliber of the talent, the clients, the work and I realized I was doing really rad shit here. I wasn’t trading anything for this.”

Korth-McDonnell has not been alone in the cross-country migration. Plenty of other industry veterans have done the same. But what was once a trickle has become a flood, with people relocating not only from New York but other industry strongholds like Boston and Chicago and points further afield like the U.K., the Netherlands and South America.

L.A.’s getting creative

The number of jobs in Los Angeles County’s creative industries swelled by 6,000 in 2013, according to an Otis College of Art and Design study released this spring. The 355,600-strong workforce in creative fields in the county accounts for $30.4 billion in total wages, and projections call for still more growth, with an estimated 415,000 jobs in the area by 2018. (Creative occupations include advertising managers, art directors, producers, directors and related positions.)

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, speaking this past August at the site of a major construction project on the city’s West Side—where many ad agencies, tech companies, video game producers and other creative enterprises are based—touted the area’s draw. Los Angeles ranks at the top of manufacturing, green and tech jobs in the U.S., is home to Silicon Beach and the likes of Google, Snapchat, YouTube, Hulu, Facebook, Netflix and innumerable startups, and is also one of the busiest travel destinations.

There has also been a sharp uptick in film shoots in the city, spurred by new state tax incentives for movie and TV production. Commercial shoots for automakers and other major advertisers are in part responsible for that upswing, according to the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp.

The draw for agency types

For the founders of the agency Mistress, the city’s appeal has been clear as far back as 2010. One of its partners, Christian Jacobsen, was already ensconced in L.A., having moved there from New York to work on the Red Bull business for Kastner & Partners. A veteran of agencies including Ogilvy & Mather and Lowe & Partners, Jacobsen thought he would spend a few years “soaking up the sun” before pitching himself to West Coast stalwarts like Goodby, Silverstein & Partners in San Francisco or Wieden + Kennedy in Portland, Ore. “I figured if I was going to have a serious career, I’d have to move on,” Jacobsen recalls. “L.A. was temporary.”