SBJ/October 1-7, 2012/People and Pop Culture

The Sit-Down: Tor Myhren, Grey New York

The creative force behind the E-Trade baby and the Oprah car giveaway on motivating people, the magic of 18 minutes at TED and the angst of creating a Super Bowl spot.


I’m very serious about work and I love my job.
But I don’t let it overwhelm my entire life.

I don’t have an office. I sit amongst everybody. None of us have offices. The meetings are very collaborative. I really ask people — and expect them — to challenge me in meetings. My word is not God. That’s important and something that I learned from leaders that I worked with that I didn’t respect as much.

Photo by: PATRICK E. MCCARTHY
Our office is all open.
You can see in to every single meeting room. I think that fosters collaboration. I believe that ideas are like living organisms and when you put walls around, then they can’t grow. There are no walls here. So when an idea starts to flow, it flows through this place and it flows much easier.

You have to continue to do the work occasionally because you have to prove to people that you’ve got it. You have to prove to yourself you’ve still got it. I think it keeps you closer to the ground. When you stop creating in this business, you’re done. Even though I’m president of this company, I will always be writing ads.

So much of managing is simply motivating people. People are much more motivated to work with and for somebody that they know will be there in the battle. When things are going bad, you’re there. When things are going good, you’re there.

When I first got into management I was very impatient. I wanted things to happen very quickly, blow everything up, rebuild it and do it my way. … Now, creating a long-term vision, letting that play out and understanding that it doesn’t all have to happen today is the biggest change in my management style.

Compared to most presidents that I’ve worked with at companies, I’m friends with a lot of people here. I’m a little bit closer to them on a personal level. Now, you can say that’s a good thing or a bad thing. I think it’s a good thing. I call it radical transparency. I try to be as transparent as I possibly can with everybody.

I learned a lot from the TED conference. Eighteen minutes. A lot of the meetings I do I give people 18 minutes. Eighteen minutes, it’s over. If those guys can give a TED talk in 18 minutes about some of the most complicated ideas and issues in the world, you can come to me and tell me a marketing idea in 18 minutes.

I don’t ever hire negativity. I don’t care how bad your last job was. Don’t come into your job interview carrying a bunch of baggage. It’s a complete turn-off to me, and that’s not the kind of people I want working at this company.

We’ve become a very successful agency, so one thing that happens here is our people get poached all the time. Oftentimes people are leaving for money. I tell them the same thing: Money is only going to go so far. If you love it here, let’s work this out.

When campaigns have struck a chord with pop culture, I guarantee you they’re attracting business. And that’s what we’re judged by.

Most of the ads I’ve done that have really hit, I was surprised. The E-Trade baby? I mean, come on. There’s been a million talking babies. The voice we brought to it was the key. It just hit. And it hit so big.

I can speak in front of 1,000 people and I don’t get nervous.
I can go in front of the biggest client and I don’t get nervous. But when I am sitting with my friends at a Super Bowl party and I know I have a couple spots on it, I feel sick to my stomach. I can’t wait for that spot to be over.

Don’t ever buy a Super Bowl spot if you don’t understand that this is entertainment. Just forget it. You’re wasting your money.

Other than sports, I don’t have to watch your ad anymore. All marketers have to realize that, which means I have to make advertising and communications that are worth watching.

I love to travel, because I love “new.” When you’re traveling, everything’s new. I like to meet new people, see new things, hear new languages and eat new food.

Cambodia and Vietnam are two of my favorite places to travel to. The people are the most wonderful people I’ve ever met. They just love life and are happy.

I live two blocks away from my office, right over in Chelsea. I’m very anti-commute. It just never works for me.

For five years I’ve been stuck in this indie rock thing. The National is a band that I just love. We may actually do their next music video. I’m trying to get them to agree to have us.

It’s a combination of New York City, advertising, and the digital revolution, but I cannot read a full book. Again, my own ADD issues, but I just can’t get through it. It’s really sad. I used to read all the time. So I read short stories. I just finished a book by Richard Brautigan. He writes the best short stories.

The book “The 4-Hour Workweek” was a life-changer for me. It’s like a bible for me. Check emails twice a day. That’s it.
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