The Egotist Briefs: Tod Seisser
Tod Seisser is one of three founding partners (along with Julie Bauer, and Steve Landsberg) at Grok. Previously, Seisser was Chief Creative Officer of Saatchi & Saatchi NY where he oversaw clients like Johnson & Johnson, General Mills, Beck’s Beer, Kodak, UBS and Procter & Gamble.
Grok is a young company. As it grows, how do you keep the creative work from straying away from the definition of Grok that defines it?
That’s one of the advantages of having two terrific partners, Julie Bauer and Steve Landsberg. The three of us have very different experiences, personalities, strengths and weaknesses. So each of us sees something the other might miss, and we each bring something else to the party. We all look out for each other — and for Grok — and that means making sure the work lives up to our standards — and our name.
What would you like to see Grok become in, say, ten years from now?
Essentially, a somewhat larger version of what it is today. I don’t have a particular number in mind, but I’d like to see it move forward and grow, because a company, to steal a line from Woody Allen, is like a shark: if it doesn’t keep moving, it dies. (Okay, Woody said it about a relationship, but an agency is a lot like a relationship.) That being said, I want us to keep our “Grokness.” An open atmosphere. Free exchange of ideas. Porous boundaries between departments and disciplines. An emphasis on results. An avoidance of process for the sake of process. And a willingness to experiment, to try something new.
After your stint as CCO of Saatchi & Saatchi, running a small shop must be a pretty big change. How’s it been? Is there more freedom, or is your job more about making every idea count?
In certain ways it’s surprisingly similar, in other ways it’s different. At Saatchi, my day consisted of meeting after meeting after meeting. I oversaw a huge amount of work, but I rarely got involved, creatively, in a project from start to finish. Sometimes I would help my teams out with a running start, and then back away. Other times, I’d help them out of the mud when they were stuck. Or I’d go over a script or a board and suggest a different way to look at it and (one would hope) make it better. And sometimes, I just stayed out of the way.
At Grok, I’m waist deep in the creative process. Neck deep, actually. We have some terrific young talent here, but my creative partner, Steve, and I do a huge amount of the work ourselves. And that could be anything from a full-on TV, print and digital campaign, to a one-off poster that’ll hang in a client’s reception area for a day. There were good things I learned working at big agencies — and I know Steve and Julie feel the same way — that actually help us make Grok a better small agency. Some of the big agency processes made a lot of sense, some didn’t. Sometimes a little too much time was spent dissecting the frog — then putting it back together and wondering why it didn’t jump. But since we’re beholden only to ourselves, we can pick and choose what works and what doesn’t, and run a leaner, meaner (well, hopefully not literally) agency that understands how to create an intelligent strategy — and how to create advertising that actually makes a difference in our clients’ businesses.
As far as freedom, I wouldn’t say there was more freedom or less freedom at one agency or the other — it’s just a different kind of freedom. We don’t have stockholders to answer to, or a holding company, or a Worldwide CEO, or a Worldwide CCO. So there’s certainly huge freedom in that respect. But because it’s our own place, the stakes are higher. And yes, every idea counts. That hasn’t changed from Saatchi to Grok. Whether you’re at a 1000-person, holding-company-owned big agency, or at an independent, 20-person shop, if you stop believing that every idea counts, you might as well stay home.
Is there any creative work out there you wish you’d thought of?
Aside from the usual suspects, like Apple and Nike, I’m really impressed by some of the work coming out of Grey — of all places! — these days. I particularly like the work they do for DirecTV. I’d be proud to have done that.
Does Grok do anything to foster creativity for everyone at the company?
I think it’s inherent in our environment and our structure. Our physical environment is totally open (with a few conference rooms for meetings and / or quiet time) which puts everyone in the thick of the ideas being thrown about. We’re not precious with our internal processes. Everyone contributes, and is encouraged to do so. And it starts at the top. Steve and my background is creative, and Julie’s is strategic, but we work very fluidly. There’s no “hey, stay out of my sandbox” going on at the agency. Sure, we fight. But we fight about what we think will make the work great, not about turf.
What inspires you creatively? What doesn’t?
Movies. TV. Random things I stumble across on the web. The news. Comic books. A conversation overheard on the subway. A conversation with the person I live with. Anything my eyes and ears take in is fair game.
What do you do, outside of advertising, that you’re particularly proud of?
I’m a world-class napper. As a junior, having a good portfolio is just the beginning.
Next comes the interview. How do you define a good interview?
One where you can get a genuine sense of the person you’re interviewing. How do they think on their feet? How do they react to things on a visceral level? Can they read between the lines — can they read the subtext of a situation? Do they think strategically as well as executionally? Also, what about their ego? Is it all about “I” or can they work as part of a team?
Is there anything that just kills an interview to you?
Hard to say, because it so depends on the person and the job. But if I get the sense that a person is just totally full of shit, that would probably do it.
Any parting words of wisdom to all the young creatives out there reading this?
Study the annuals. See as many people and soak up as much advice as you possibly can, and ignore half of it. Don’t be afraid to continue to take classes — it doesn’t mean you’re not ready for prime time — it just means you’re willing to keep learning. And don’t chase the money. Chase the work.
This article was originally published for The New York Egotist in 2013. You can view the original article here.