5 Minutes with…Tom Eslinger
Saatchi & Saatchi / Worldwide Digital Creative Director
Interviewed by LBB editor, Gabrielle Lott
LBB > Tell me what it is about Saatchi & Saatchi that you believe makes it such a successful network and what is it that it offers that makes it so unique?
TE > I’ve worked across the network since 2002. So, I’ve worked from New Zealand to LA, to London, EMEA and now to New York. The thing that is consistent about it, is that we have ‘Nothing is impossible’ across all of the offices, which is basically our way to work. We have ‘Lovemarks’ as a tool that we use across all of our clients so that we are able to be concise when we talk about our philosophy and, essentially, we work as a true network; which I think is the thing that is mostly unique, especially from having contact with, or talking with, people that come in from other networks.
We work very collaboratively across the different offices. We have things like ‘Tribes’, where we bring in people from all around the network to work specifically as a new creative strategy and planning team; so we can bring in a team from Buenos Aires, a team from NY, a team from Russia, from Europe, a team from China and we can bring them all together to work on a specific brief. We share a lot of clients across the network: Toyota, P&G, Trident, Cadbury’s, Kraft, I mean it’s a very collaborative place and there are always going to be clients which are local such as Italy that has their own clients. NYC has their own clients… but on the opportunities where we can, we collaborate.
We have our worldwide creative board. I’ve been on the board for almost ten years now and we meet two or three times a year where we talk about the work, we share things, we work across the network… It is very easy for, say, a creative director in LA to call Conway, the CCO here in NYC and say ‘I’m working on something specific, I need a team that has this experience, can you loan them out?’ It doesn’t become a big deal, the first thought that pops up isn’t the PNL and how they’re going to get paid for it. I mean, obviously, do they have the bandwidth but most importantly, we’re able to help each other.
LBB > So, going on from there, tell us about your role. You’re worldwide digital creative director…
TE > Yep, so the job that I’ve been doing there is essentially going into offices and parts of the network that either have digital capability that they need to transform or integrate, or I help them set up a new one. So, with NYC there’s some resource here and I’ve just come over from London from working in EMEA – being based in EMEA and working out from the network from the UK. Every single office is different and there is something different that I do at each one, but here, in NYC, specifically is to be an executive creative director with Conway and with Brian Carley on the work, but at the same time I’m integrating and helping them change the entire production process for the agency.
Because the digital work that you do, it’s 50% getting people to think in a certain way and get them to think about creating ideas in a different way; the other 50% is how do you make it? If you don’t have the craft and the people that can make the stuff, working in a new way, it makes it very difficult. The way that I work is to bring in producers, planners, technicians and everybody comes in at the front of the process, rather than the end and so if all the people are producing stuff or the user experience people, whoever they happen to be, if they are at the front then they are adding value all the way through rather than scrambling at the end.
LBB > Do you create and implement a core set of beliefs and a working practice?
TE > Yes. The working practice changes for every single office because some offices will have clients that have a certain way of working or will have a relationship with an outside production company, or an outside media company, which means you have to rejig the process a little bit to match that.
The core practice that I work to has someone that can work across the creative and production side and who can integrate those two sides; to have someone who can work between those two teams and bring them together. That’s what I am doing here, aside from the creative direction element.
The second part is to have some tools and processes in place so that you can manage the work, which is usually some kind of job tracking/file system, bring everyone in earlier, bring them in at the front and then do a skills analysis and find out what people don’t know and then train them, but do it in a way that’s not scary. Right, because if you come in and say ‘hey, broadcast producer, you are all of a sudden an integrated producer’ the issue is that a) that doesn’t mean anything to them and b) they probably don’t know how or what they are going to do with their time and they freak out and the worst thing is, when people get scared they go inward rather than outward. Training is the thing that is going to start here in NYC very soon… I’ve only been here for three weeks (May 2012). I haven’t even started the unpacking!
LBB > Actually, that makes me think of something I should have asked you earlier… You were a teacher at a University, is that right? So, you’re pulling on those resources and skills for what you’re doing here at Saatchi & Saatchi?
TE > I know how to set up a class and I know how to set up a curriculum/program. The thing about the training is because all the digital stuff changes so fast and the processes change really quickly and the things that you have to do change really quickly. So, we really quickly moved into mobile and social media and now search has to be part of all those kinds of skills.
What I try to do, what I am doing here is kind of going, okay, for the really basic stuff (online advertising, banners) IAB runs a really good course, so tap the IAB to come in and start running that really basic stuff because as soon as people start learning, then they start having more questions. So, as soon as we get to that level then you invite Google in to do a presentation about YouTube formats. About interactive video and how all that kind of cool stuff works. Then, I’ve been tailoring a few things to cover areas that we specifically need to get people’s heads around such as different forms of video – the way that we shoot it, edit it, what’s the rapid response, like sending people out with handicams to shoot things. Then there’s the legal ramifications; you know all that kind of stuff, that all feeds into it. So, yes, I can certainly write a program and I taught for five years but while I was teaching - at the same time - me and three of my friends were setting up a business, so in essence, we were doing what I am doing now: teaching and producing and then working. I haven’t moved; aside from the cities.
LBB > So let’s ask you then about how you got into advertising? What’s your
TE > I went to school in Minneapolis and I had enough credits from another school… I was a failed business school major before I went back to art school and I had enough credits from business school to transfer into art school and do a double major and a double minor in four years - which was pretty cool. So I majored in graphic design and advertising and my minor was in art history and computer graphics. The three: computer graphics, design and advertising became what I worked on. So, when I was in school - this was the mid-80s - we had one of the first suites of colour Macs in America. So we all went ‘fuck this is cool’. We didn’t have to draw; didn’t have to be a really skilled drawer because up until then we were still marker rendering and painting wash and drawing typography and so immediately it changed our work habits. We began creating interactive work with hyper card and with really early versions of Director and we had Digital Darkroom before Photoshop – we had all these tools, so we had to learn all this stuff.
I did my thesis on Interactive Media and that got shown at a big Museum in the states, which got me an interview in New Zealand with my professor down there and then they asked if myself and three of my friends wanted to go and write a curriculum for them. A university curriculum for computer graphics and we were like ‘sure’… We looked at a map and we realised that there is awesome skiing and snowboarding 45 minutes from there and the dot for Wellington, which had about 300,000 people in it looked about the same size as the dot to the city we lived in, which only had about 40,000 people in it… It was good. It was really good.
We built the practice that we had, which eventually became Saatchi’s digital practice, which eventually became what I am doing now. We were always doing advertising. I interned at the same time I was studying with most of the big agencies in Minneapolis and so when we moved to New Zealand we were working with lots of people, random stuff. We knew David Carson when he was doing “Ray Gun Magazine” so we invited David to New Zealand and then we started designing fonts for “Ray Gun” and that got us commissions for Calvin Klein and for Swatch.
LBB > You have your own fonts don’t you?
TE > Yeah, I’ve got 20. I used to do lots of fonts, tonnes of type. I see the grunge type is coming back… Then Saatchi’s in New Zealand was our biggest client and we were farming out digital to them, not knowing that we were sub-contracting out to their other agencies in, say, Asia. Then Saatchi’s NY set up digital and they planned to go into New Zealand which is when they asked if we wanted to come in-house and we agreed, but as long as we could be part of the agency and that we were not a separate company. So, we just went in.
LBB > So, you’ve just moved to NY from London. What made you make the move?
TE > There were a couple of things. The practices that we set up in Europe were coming to a point where they are doing some really great work. Sweden, Italy, London - they’re starting to build these practices and produce great work. I found that I was spending most of my time on planes, and most of those trips were coming here (NY). I was working with Conway (Williamson) and Brian (Carley) and the team here working on the Trident pitch, and we won that. A lot of it is digital and then they won Miller Light, the P&G business is coming in here, General Mills business; there is a lot of stuff coming out of this office. I found that I had the exciting opportunity of coming home after 25 years. My work visa runs out in July and essentially I’ve travelled so much that I didn’t qualify for indefinite right to remain and as I can’t qualify for a passport, I would be taxed within an inch of my life - so I came home. It’s good. It’s fast. It’s a different pace from London, that’s for sure. The thing I like most about it is that I am close to my family but also the speed of work moving here is just great.
LBB > Last twelve months - is there anything that you’ve worked on that has really resonated with you?
TE > I think all the work around Trident has been really good. It came to life in the US, Latin America, it’s just launching in Europe, it is launching under different country brands in France and Russia. That’s just all rolling out right now and I think it is really effective. I’m really proud of the set up that is happening in China around all the digital that they are setting up over there – some really cool integrated, a really liquid team that is being set up from the get go to be integrated across Guangzhou, Beijing, Shanghai and now Hong Kong . That’s huge; that’s massive for Saatchi & Saatchi to be doing that.
I think the work that Sweden did for P&G’s Ariel for the fashion shoot - which was the robot that shot stains (http://bit.ly/KMGMIM
) onto clothes in real time. Then you had it sent back to you, washed and perfect; I thought that was really cool because it took social, digital and then the hardest thing in the world to do, credibly, product demonstration…live product demonstration which to me was super rad. To get jam out of a white, floaty blouse live on camera and then send it to somebody: The risk! If that hadn’t come out, the first thing that person would have tweeted was ‘it’s still red, it didn’t work’ and so it was really brave and that’s why it’s winning awards.
It was something, again, where the team came up with this idea, they brought in B-Reel, they and the team worked really closely with the PR and media company; everybody was around the table from the get go and worked all the way through and it was smooth and, as such, it was really good. London has got some really cool stuff that will be coming out for the Olympics and I think the Blood Relations work (http://bit.ly/LsyW25
) that Saatchi’s did in Israel – I’m really proud of that. That’s Saatchi & Saatchi at its best, at its core. It’s something that we got behind even though it wasn’t entirely ours - we opened that up to anybody that had a great idea and made it that they could submit it. I’m really proud of that.
LBB > Do you enjoy what you do?
TE > The only part that grinds is when you go back to back to back to back to back to back to back to back to back of meetings about process and spreadsheets. Spreadsheets! (laughter). No, I love it. I love being back home and I love what I get to do, the people I am fortunate to work with and the work that we create.