Ted Sann, the hand-picked heir to BBDO Worldwide’s creative head
and vice-chairman, Phil Dusenberry, is a reserved man. He steers clear
of journalists and rarely gives interviews. So Campaign was curious when
he offered to swap his last night of a trip to Paris for a cup of coffee
and a chat in Hammersmith. A face-to-face interview with Sann. Surely
this means news. Is Dusenberry moving on to write Hollywood scripts? Is
Sann taking over?
But Sann is one of those people with whom you could be stuck in a lift
for 24 hours and know no more about than when you went in. Of course,
like all Manhattan advertising veterans, he can make pleasant
conversation - but he’s no ’deep throat’.
He comes across as an agreeable, under-stated fiftysomething American
with a quiet manner. He has an impeccable 20-year pedigree with BBDO New
York - he’s currently the agency’s joint chief executive officer - and
he tells you that he has a house on Long Island. But whether he will
follow Dusenberry into the chairman’s role at BBDO Worldwide remains
very much a question.
’I like what I do at the moment,’ Sann concedes. ’I’m certainly not
pushing for anything else. I know it’s important to do real jobs, jobs
that produce work. It’s always been a mainstay for me.’ Somehow, it’s
easy to believe the honest-looking Sann. The enjoyment he gets from
rolling up his sleeves and getting stuck into the creative side of
advertising is one of the few emotions that shines through almost
everything he says.
Ask him, for example, how BBDO got to win the most creative awards of
any network for the past two years and he talks about ’just buying the
most creative agencies around and letting them get on with it’. Ask him
how BBDO New York got so successful and he talks about ’just delivering’
on the work. ’We don’t have a whole lot of systems and internal
If the creative people like a campaign, then it goes to the client,’ he
explains, arranging his long, spare limbs and sipping a cup of black
coffee. ’We focus compulsively on the work. We tend to avoid going in
These are almost the words of an idealistic junior creative, not an
advertising veteran. But junior he certainly is not. The Cannes Grand
Prix for his most famous work, the ’archaeology’ spot for Pepsi, is 13
years old this year. It has been five years since he was appointed chief
creative officer for BBDO New York and he has shared the joint chief
executive role with Tom Carey, an account manager, for three-and-a-half
years. New York rumour-mongers periodically claim Dusenberry will
relinquish his role to immerse himself in writing of some sort.
Over the years, Sann has had to tear part of himself away from the
day-to-day aspects of the job to take a broader, more managerial view,
even though it has called on his reserves of self-discipline. Sann calls
the tricky role of getting heavily involved with creative style without
interfering with creativity itself a ’tough bounce’.
Criticising others obviously doesn’t come naturally to him and he feels
the need to explain himself. ’When people come into my office, I pray
that it will be great work ... but ...’ He is almost apologetic.
So, having won top awards, run a top agency and sat in judgment on his
peers at Cannes (it was the Frank Lowe year - don’t ask him about it),
what other goals can possibly remain, bar the top job at BBDO
’I just want to keep people’s attention on the work. I don’t want to be
lost in a maze of the crap that can often surround it,’ he says with a
hint of ambiguity.
Perhaps a full 48 hours in a lift would do it ...
Armed with a masters degree in fine art, takes a job with the New York
City school system trying to persuade drop-out kids to go back to
Joins BBDO New York as a trainee and rises through the creative
Wins Cannes Grand Prix for Pepsi’s ’archaeology’
Named chief creative officer of BBDO New York
Becomes joint chief executive officer of BBDO BBDO wins more Cannes
lions than any other agency
For the fifth successive year, BBDO New York wins first place in USA
Today’s survey of consumers’ favourite commercials aired during the