Creativity 50

Creativity 50 2014: Sebastian Tomich

VP-Advertising, The New York Times

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Sebastian Tomich gets goosebumps twice a week when "I'm with my team," he said. The T Brand Studio group he heads as VP-advertising for The New York Times creates content for advertisers at the publication known as the bastion of journalism.

"We're here to fund great work on the other side of the building," he said.

Times executives have pointed to T Brand Studios as important to the company's financial success. But the studio is also helping advance the practice of branded content by putting out work that's more akin to a newsroom product than a bland advertorial, even though the Times' newsroom isn't involved.

Not even a year old, the studio has created work for 40 clients, including Google, Dell and Goldman Sachs. A feature-length story it produced about women's prisons on behalf of the Netflix series "Orange is the New Black" was heralded as a watershed moment for branded content because of its high quality.

"We had a good punchline earlier this year," Mr. Tomich said. "Journalism is the new marketing degree."

What is your definition of creativity?

Mr. Tomich: Drawing inspiration from the mash-up of your experiences and surroundings to produce something additive and new.

How would you describe your creative process?

Mr. Tomich: My process can be unpredictable. I have to focus on properly capturing the moments when my mind is wandering, which generally occurs at the beginning and end of a day full of urgency, enthusiasm and a project to focus on. The wandering generally starts with some cynicism about what already exists, followed by an unexpected flow of ideas, always accompanied by an Anjunabeats playlist and a few shots from my recent Nespresso purchase. The final step is to check with the people I trust if I've just spent hours in a bubble being my own best critic or if I've actually created something of value.

What's the biggest challenge to creating great native advertising? How did you overcome those challenges?

Mr. Tomich: Quality is essential to great content. A connection to the brand is essential to great advertising. Doing each separately has an established playbook, but developing work that serves both at the same time is a continued challenge.

What advice do you have for anyone to get out of a creative rut?

Mr. Tomich: It's all about the brain trust. I'm lucky enough to have a team around me that inspires ideas on a daily basis which I can reference if in future ruts. Or I take a break from what I'm doing and take a stroll down the Facebook feed. Seeing unexpected high school friends marry each other is always inspirational.

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