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Original article appeared in The Record on June 11, 2013. By Joan Verdon.
Kurt von Seekamm can’t relate to Don Draper, the lead character in “Mad Men,” the TV show about 1960s advertising agencies. And Draper probably couldn’t survive in von Seekamm’s world, a realm where ad men not only have to be idea men (and women), but also must be able to turn an idea into a video, a website or a 3-D hologram.
Von Seekamm is president and owner of The CSI Group in Paramus, an advertising and marketing agency where developing ad campaigns is only a small part of what they do. In recent years, the company has been more focused on solutions than slogans — such as how to rewrite software to enable a client’s video display to run on a store monitor, or how to fit an 18-foot-high set for a sales meeting into a room with a 14-foot ceiling. And last month, the company produced a video interview with astronaut and Rutgers University alumnus Terry Hart that was shown to 30,000 people at High Point Solutions Stadium at the Rutgers commencement.
North Jersey is home to several of the largest advertising agencies in the state, including Sigma Group in Oradell and Source Communications in Hackensack. The CSI Group, founded in 1991, has 30 employees and had 2011 billings of $51.6 million. It roughly doubled its staff and expanded its office space during the recession, according to von Seekamm. He said the company benefited from new clients who eliminated in-house staff, as well as from existing clients who expanded their budgets to increase their digital presence. The company’s clients include Lyndhurst-based Citizen Watch, Castrol motor oil, sunglass retailer Solstice, Rutgers University and the U.S. Army.
Von Seekamm, 57, a Ridgewood resident, got his start in media while a student at St. Peter’s College, where he helped build an on-campus television studio in the mid-1970s, and did broadcasting for the Army football network. He spoke with The Record in the company’s offices on Farview Terrace in Paramus.
Q. Do you have clients asking for all-digital campaigns? No TV, no print?
Just recently we had a client do just that. That’s how they start: “This is going to be all digital.” But we just finished a commercial for them that aired on ESPN. So all-digital was out the door. We just finished a catalog for them. So while most of it was digital, in our opinion there aren’t too many products where you can just do digital. There are too many different consumers out there that aren’t ready for only digital. Digital is the big buzz word. Everybody’s jumping into digital media, but the old stuff isn’t necessarily going away. There may be less of it, but some companies still need to concentrate on the old stuff
Q. Do print ads, non-digital ads, still work?
Yes. Clients are doing magazines, they’re doing television. Really what’s happened, from the clients we’re seeing, if you had a budget of X for advertising, it’s now X-plus. They’ve added digital to their existing budgets. They didn’t say let’s take some from here and here and give it to digital. They took their advertising campaign and they’ve added to it. That’s really quite a bit of what’s helped us. It’s become a new market for us within the same client.
Q. When you started the agency in 1991, no PCs, no laptops, right?
Actually, I had a laptop. It was made in Australia.
Q. In 1991?
Yes. It was a Mac-clone kind of a thing that you had to put together. It was in three pieces. I remember buying our first work station here. It was ridiculously expensive. It cost something like over $25,000, and it was exciting because we had 80-megabyte drive in it.
Q. What do you look for when you hire someone? Technical skills? Examples of their work?
Me personally, I like to like the person. I figure by the time I’m getting to meet somebody, that we’ve checked out what they can do. It’s like any team you put together, whether it’s a sports team or a business team. They need to function together. If you don’t want to have lunch with that person every day, they won’t fit in.
It’s really what separates us from other people. As long as you have talented people anybody can produce the products. How they all work together is what makes the difference. Again it’s like a sports team. You can have all the superstars on your team; it doesn’t make you the best.
Q. You also run sales meetings and events for clients. How does that work?
When you talk about being a 360-degree agency, that’s really what it’s about. We do everything for the company — we pick the locations, we do the contracting, we get the people there, we organize the meeting, we run the meeting, we produce everything that’s shown at the meeting, we produce all their marketing materials that they hand out to their sales force.
Q. Do you have to plan entertainment for the meetings? Do you have to bring in speakers or Justin Timberlake?
We’ve brought retailers and sales teams to America’s Cup races, once in New Zealand. There are other companies that we’ve brought to the Olympics in Barcelona.
Q. When you need to come up with a slogan, who is the idea person who comes up with the Don Draper magic?
There are a lot of us. We have a creative director. We have art directors. Sometimes you can get inspired by something you see, but it usually generates in [our office]. We’ll get a group of people together. One of the best examples happens to be with [race car driver] John Force and Castrol. At that time John Force had been an ambassador with Castrol for 25 years, so the slogan we came up with was “John Force hasn’t changed his oil in 25 years.” It tied everything together. It said John Force has been with Castrol for 25 years, it told people this oil is great, it lasts forever. That was the result of probably four or five people sitting in a room for however many hours it took, with ideas floating around, and all of a sudden somebody says, ‘Sounds like the guy hasn’t changed his oil in 25 years.’’ That’s it!