POV: Interview With Sebastian Eldridge, Founder of Rooster New York
I currently live in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn with my wife and soon-to-be-born daughter, Agatha. I was born in Athens, Ohio and raised in New York City and Santa Fe, New Mexico. I grew up in and around the advertising world with a few of my uncles playing in the creative departments of some of the big agencies, and another built his career on the broadcast production side. My first job in production was with my uncle as a PA on a Victoria’s Secret spot at age 13…I’m pretty sure that was illegal.
In my career, I have worked in the account, planning, and creative departments of agencies like Kirshenbaum Bond + Partners, SS+K and Crispin Porter + Bogusky…I got tired of all the “+”s and lack of ampersands, so I moved into production.
You founded Rooster New York in 2010, where you started out doing comedy sketches which led to developing TV shows. Talk to us a little bit about the entrepreneurial transition from making commercials to becoming an agency that develops successful campaigns.
It seemed natural to me to marry creative with production. I had worked on both sides of the equation and saw that there was always this weird wall between production companies and creative agencies that didn’t need to be there. Ideas and boards should be developed simultaneously. Even when working with agencies as a production services provider, we always try to involve ourselves in the creative process and collaborate with both agency creatives and producers.
From where did the name Rooster originate? Describe your company culture. How do you integrate your culture into your strategies?
Two of my partners (Saxon Eldridge and Rob Gilbert) and I sat at Soho House for two days brainstorming names. I brought the list home and my wife looked at it and she picked Rooster out of about 100 names — simple as that. But now we incorporate the name and what it stands for in our everyday business practice — be up before anyone else; be protective of your employees, creative, and clients; and be proud of your work and who you are. We’re not a meek group.
How does bringing together individuals of varying skill sets benefit a project? Tell us about The Coop.
The four founders come from different worlds. I’m the only one who has a real advertising background. My brother comes from TV and film production; Gavin founded Vice Magazine; and Rob is a DP (director of photography) by trade with a music background. It works to our advantage to have an outsider lens on the work we produce. The Coop is a combination of our directors and collaborators/partners whom we work with. We never promise a client that we can do more than we can — which is produce great content. With that said, we also have clients who are looking for a web site developer, a VFX artist or an experiential program. We bring The Coop to the table and open up doors for them to do the jobs that they do best. We’re specialists, and so are they. We will manage the relationship and the creative direction, but they will handle the execution.
How do you see the motion media space evolving over the next 2 to 3 years? What trends and technologies are you most excited about?
We’ve successfully taken down the wall between creative and production and will soon be breaking through the wall to syndication and distribution of our content with a joint venture we are developing with an unnamed team of individuals. In the same way that I believe creative and production should be developed in tandem, I believe that the venue in which it lives and who receives the messages we create is just as, if not more, important than the actual creative or production. “Data-Drive Creative” is the mantra of our soon-to-be-formed venture. I TM’d that, btw…so it’s mine and you’re welcome!
Rooster is somewhat of a hybrid between a production company and agency. How does this help you compete in today’s marketplace? Do you think the concept of hybrid agencies is something we’ll see more of in the future?
I definitely think we’ll see more hybrids. It’s already happening even within the walls of big agencies. I hope to see more of it, because I think the best work comes from the hybrids. I’ve been saying it’s a creative producer’s world for a couple of years now, and think we’ll continue to see that thought flourish.
You’ve partnered with many different agencies, such as Goodby Silverstein and Chiat/LA. What does that collaboration normally look like? In your opinion, what are the benefits of this type of collaboration in the advertising industry?
Again — when everyone is on the same page about creative, it just makes for a better end-product. Everyone involved on a project has a vested interest if it’s collaborative, and a partner becomes less of a cog and more of an owner of creative.
You inject comedy into most of your campaigns. How has this helped you succeed? How do you determine what ‘funny’ is?
It’s helpful that Gavin is a comedian, and he’s also one of the funnier people on the face of this earth. We also happen to be in cahoots with a number of big name comedians…so that helps us to know what’s funny. Comedy is also the hardest thing to pull off, so we look at it as a personal challenge. Not to mention comedy is something that everyone can appreciate.
As an agency based in New York City, how do you stay on the leading edge and compete with some of the larger agencies?
We work with them and not against them. Why compete when you can collaborate?
How have some of your past experiences, such as VP of Strategy at Decon and Director of Strategy at Shelter, helped you in the success of Rooster? What differences do you see at a creative and strategic level between working at a place like Rooster verses other agencies and corporations?
I am blessed to have known many facets of the industry and that has just given me a more rounded sense of the industry as a whole. I also know what not to do, which is the most important part.
One reason that you love what you do: I get to do what I love and hang out with the people I love on a daily basis. We’re like a motorcycle gang but without the drugs and violence.
Mentor: I don’t really believe in mentors per se. There are a lot of people who have taught me a lot of things, but I believe you need to find your own path and not follow someone else’s.
Must read book: “The Grapes of Wrath”. Sounds cliché and the easiest one to go to, but I think it embodies the American spirit. Not even the wrath of nature or the economy can hold people down.
Music that gets you in your zone: It changes quite a bit and I’m not a big music guy, but Drake is always a good pump-up artist.
Feature image courtesy of Flickr user joshuaseye.
Natalie Stezovsky is the Vice President for Digital Talent Agents, a company that helps experts build their businesses through thought leadership and content marketing. She's directly involved in developing agency partnerships and when she's not doing that, she's competing with her horses at an international level. Connect with her on Twitter @nstezovsky or LinkedIn.