Adding to Grey's (Creative) Anatomy

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Tor Myhren
Tor Myhren
As an ECD at Leo Burnett, Detroit, Tor Myhren was able to get the traditionally... er, traditional clients of the automotive category into very nontraditional mediums. Now Grey, New York is betting he's the right man for the job to change the creative culture of its traditional reputation as its new chief creative officer. We spoke to Tor about why he chose to leave Detroit for New York, the tasks ahead and how his previous experience will inform his newest challenge.

What attracted you to the job at Grey ?

The challenge and the opportunity is really what it comes down to. They're reputation in the creative world is very traditional. But they have this client roster that's phenomenal. You look at that and there's plenty of opportunity there. I like the variety of clients and the size of it, too. There's a lot of different opportunities that sit in little corners of that place.
In my career, particularly in the last four or five years, I've done a lot of new media stuff, along with the traditional things. A couple years ago you were just hearing about new media and non-traditional work and last year it was the big press hit, and this year is when the money started to move and next year the money's going to move more. So the industry's kind of freaking out, no one's got a set model, but I think it's really one of the most exciting times in advertising, certainly since I started. There's so many opportunities, whether it's on the web or experiential, I think that Grey, and they'd be the first to tell you this, have not tapped into that world. And anybody who's not tapping into that world is going to lose. It may be next year or five years down the road, but you can't survive as an ad agency on 100 percent traditional media buys and 100 percent traditional creative no matter what your client roster looks like. That's a lot of what Steve (Hardwick, president of Grey, New York) and I have talked about. And because of some of the things I've done, particularly with bigger clients like GM and Nissan, is probably one of the reasons they wanted me. I never would've gone there if I didn't truly believe that Steve wasn't willing to make the changes that need to be made. We were very candid in our conversations about it. He's making the kinds of changes right now that absolutely have to happen in order for us to take the next step into a more modern and, quite frankly, relevant agency. It's going to be a huge challenge, there's no question.

How do you see the agency needs to change its creative approach?

There are no great agencies out there that don't have a creative culture. I think in the past Grey's culture has been much more account-driven and I think trying to create, implement and have a large creative department not only sign off on but really get excited about a new vision and culture is really the first thing that needs to happen. It's about setting a creative vision and building a culture and that takes time. It's not like six months from now the culture's going to be totally different. I also don't believe in going in and making the "big speech." It's not about getting up and declaring What I Believe About Advertising. It takes time and you've got to lead by example, get in there and over time the people there begin to buy into and build upon the vision that's set and (meanwhile) you bring in new people who agree with the vision and eventually you'll have a department that's marching to the same drum. Ideally what then happens is that you have clients who buy into that vision as well. But the only way that happens is doing good work. You've got to put up or shut up.
There's a cultural shift (within the agency) that has to happen, we need to do better creative work in more interesting spaces and more varied medias. Hopefully then we can pick up some momentum with some good work. It's a tall order. There's a lot of people doing very good work right now.
When I spoke to Steve about the new leadership he's hiring – they're bringing in a content person, a new business person -- that was exciting to me. To do great creative, you need more than just great creatives. You need great account people, great planners, great new business people and you need great clients. So that's the goal.

What's the most valuable experience you'll bring to Grey from your previous jobs?

I started at a place called Wongdoody, which is a very small creatively-driven shop. It was probably the most inspirational place I've ever worked. What I try to do is take some of the inspirational things from there and that small shop aggressive attitude, and try to apply that to working with bigger clients. Working at Wongdoody, then Chiat, then Burnett, was an interesting trio of agencies. In a small shop, the clients are typically smaller, and when you don't have a ton of money for production or execution, the idea is that much more essential. I think that's very important to maintain. With bigger clients and huge budgets, the idea often gets lost in execution. The other piece is being quick and nimble, very aggressive and proactive. In small places, people aren't bringing you opportunities, you have to make them. So with bigger clients, it's good to be incredibly proactive and bring them stuff they're not expecting, which I think a lot of bigger agencies often aren't as good at.
The thing from Leo Burnett that will probably help me the most is that my time there is when I really got heavily into the nontraditional media solutions. What we were able to do there, on a pretty large scale, from the Pontiac stuff on The Apprentice, to the partnership with Google, with what is perceived as a very traditional client in GM, is probably the most valuable lesson I'll take with me. Granted, my client at Pontiac wasn't traditional at all, but that's the impression of the automotive category. In any case, that kind of experience is going to help a lot going in because I think a lot of Grey's client's are perceived as more traditional than they probably are.

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