Making It Big in 30 Minutes

Transcript: Episode 2, Eitan Chitayat

Making It Big in 30 Minutes

Transcript: Episode 2

Eitan Chitayat


Terri:
What does it mean to make it big ... having money, fame, worldwide acclaim, climbing the corporate ladder, or crushing it in your business? One thing's for sure, there isn't just one way to do it.

Terri:
Welcome to "Making It Big in 30 Minutes," a podcast for, by, and about the Emerson community. You're about to meet an Emersonian who's making it: making a living, making a difference, and sometimes making it up as they go along. As far as we're concerned, if you're making something, you've made it big time. I'm your host and Emerson alumna, Terri Trespicio, and we've got 30 minutes, so let's get started.

Terri:
Eitan Chitayat is a pretty fascinating guy. He earned a masters in integrated marketing communications at Emerson in 1999, and worked at well-known agencies like Arnold Worldwide, Ogilvy and Mather, BBDO in New York, and TBWA in Tel Aviv. He's also lived all over the world ... several continents. He's, today, the founder and creative director of Natie, a full service international branding agency, and his client list is enviable. We're talking Google, Apple, Facebook, YouTube ... need I go on? But one of the things he's most known for is a six minute video he created in 2015, called, I'm That Jew, which went viral and has earned more than 10 million views across several platforms.

Terri:
What happens to your life when you've shared something so personal, something you were afraid to post, and even more afraid to put your name on? Does it change you in the ways you wanted? Look, it's easy to assume that this guy has it all figured out, right? Brilliant career, hot clients, viral video ... check, check, check. And yet, to hear him tell it, it's not quite that glamorous, nor does it need to be.

Terri:
Eitan is an incredibly thoughtful guy, and what you're going to hear might change your mind about the nature and purpose of branding, of storytelling, of work in general. I give you Eitan Chitayat on making it as a creative brand strategist.

Terri:
Anyone can look at your stuff online and see what it is that you do. You are a creative director and branding expert. It's a very glamorous sounding job that sounds cool to people who, especially, don't know what it means. So how would you explain what you do to people who aren't sure if they should care?

Eitan:
I think that's really great that you said that, because it does look very glamorous from the outside, doesn't it?

Terri:
Yes, it does.

Eitan:
It's shiny, but it's a lot of hard work. My job is to help companies articulate who it is that they are, and what it is that they stand for in the world. A lot of people think that's very creative work, and it is. Ultimately, at the end of the day the output is creative, but you have a team working to dig very deep and understand what makes a company, an organization, a product or service tick. Why do they do what they do every day, and how are they going to change the world? How do they feel that they have something to bring the world?

Terri:
There's a whole new crop of people whose job it is to do what you just said: to function as a kind of corporate psychologist, to dive into a company and help them understand who they are. Why do you think that there's been such a demand for people like yourself?

Eitan:
The purpose of branding is not to find out who you are. That's part of the job, but ultimately the job is to communicate to the world who it is that you are. And I think that's where people struggle, and that's where companies struggle, because they might be great at microchip technology, and they might have found incredible people to supply their product to, but they might not know how to reach other people that could use their product because they're not telling them the right story. Especially now, with people having access to pretty much anything through digital platforms, and social media, and whatnot.

Eitan:
Anyone can tell a story. People have become brands. Everything is much more visible, and when everything is much more visible, whether it's people, or organizations, or companies, there's a competition for visibility, there's a competition for people's time. There's a competition for interest. So you've got to resonate with people, and it's much harder. There's so much noise right now, Terri.

Terri:
Now, when we back up ... let's zoom way backwards in time in the way back machine to when you were at Emerson, and you were a student, and you were studying marketing. Did you say then, "Hey, I just like this kind of stuff, let's see where it goes," or did you already know? People always think they should know what they're going to do, but how much foresight did you have, or did you know what you'd be doing?

Eitan:
I didn't have any foresight. I didn't know. I was confused. I was 27 when I got to Emerson and I didn't know what I was doing. All I knew was that I was interested maybe in journalism, in public relations, in marketing, but honestly, I didn't know what any of those things were.

Eitan:
I studied integrated communication marketing, master's degree. And in the last two semesters, I by chance signed up to two courses that were actually creative courses ... because most of the degree was communication theory ... and I really enjoyed it. And then I did two courses: one with a guy who I'm still in touch with, Chuck [inaudible 00:05:28], and he taught a course called copy and layout. It was just about putting pictures together with words, but actually shaping messaging and advertising.

Terri:
Oh, that's cool.

Eitan:
Yeah, it was great. It was super creative, and I just remember getting the bug, right then and there. And he was advocating that I'd be a planner, which is like a brand strategist. He thought that I had the knack for that.

Terri:
But that course in particular ... we take lots of courses in school ... that stood out to you as a moment when you said, "I like doing this thing."

Eitan:
That's what it was. It was, "This is fun." And it was just interesting, and it was creative, and you had to think a little differently. And it was very different than marketing theory.

Eitan:
I then did another course with a guy called Tim Brunelle, who happened to be a very talented ... and I'm of course, still in touch with him ... writer on the Volkswagen account. If you remember, the Volkswagen account around 20 years ago was an award-winning account. The new Beetle came out.

Terri:
Yes. Very hot.

Eitan:
Yeah, very hot. He was on the Volkswagen account and he was teaching on the side, and he was working in the design group. And by the end of the course, I stayed in touch with him and I started putting a book together, a portfolio today.

Eitan:
I put a book together over the course of six months. I knocked on doors. I did everything that I could to get a job as a creative, as a copywriter, and this is after two years of marketing. All of my friends had gone out and gotten jobs at 40 or $50,000 starting salaries, and I was out trying to pitch myself as a creative. One thing led to another, a bit of luck, and a little bit of timing, and then Tim told me that there was an opening in the Volkswagen team.

Terri:
Oh, my God. So you end up working there. For that.

Eitan:
I got a job amongst 10 of the most gifted writers on the planet, if you ask me, who really were my teachers on the Volkswagen account, where I stayed for four years at Arnold Worldwide.

Terri:
Wow.

Eitan:
So I got very lucky.

Terri:
Well, hang on, though, hang on. Lucky? You were out pounding the pavement. You were doing the work, like luck favors the well-prepared. You were doing the work. It didn't fall out of the sky.

Eitan:
It's not really luck, it's true. It's a bit of luck, it's a bit of talent, it's a bit of knowing the right people. It's a lot of hustle, it's a lot of sweat, but I didn't know what I was doing. And I can tell you that when I told my parents [inaudible 00:07:44] ... because remember, it was pretty much my last semester ... that I was not going to get a job in marketing, but I was going to become a copywriter, they're like, "What the fuck is a copywriter?"

Terri:
What is that? What is that? Right. Right.

Eitan:
[inaudible 00:07:57] what? And I said, "No, look at my book. And here's a Kleenex ad with the headline." They're like, "Ahhhh." But I got the job, and one thing led to another.

Terri:
And it happened. And then here we are, cut to now, where you are the creative director, you have your own firm. What is one of the things that most surprises you about your work now?

Eitan:
I think the thing that surprises me consistently is how good it feels to crack the heart and soul and the story of a brand. It doesn't matter how big, it doesn't matter how small. And it doesn't matter if it's a person.

Eitan:
I sat down today with two kids, really, just started a company ... it's a start-up in the financial sector ... and I felt like I'm just mentoring them. And I felt that today in our second session; all of a sudden, you just saw it in their eyes, that we hit on something together about them that they could say and stand behind. I've worked with Facebook, and I've worked with Apple, and I've worked with Google. And honestly, working with these guys, it just felt really good. So I think that's the ... I don't know if it's a surprise, it's just a delightful feeling to crack something. Do you know what I mean?

Terri:
Never gets old.

Eitan:
Yeah.

Terri:
Because it's true. You have big names on your resume and it's like, "Whoa, he's a big deal because he worked with these big deal people." But those moments of inspiration, even with someone that no one knows, can really light you up.

Terri:
Now, you are most widely known to the most people because of a video you created that got a ton of attention, an collectively, you say, 10 million views.

Eitan:
Yeah.

Terri:
It's called, I'm that Jew. And I have watched it twice.

Eitan:
Oh wow.

Terri:
It is incredibly moving. Tell us a little bit about it.

Eitan:
Yeah. I'm Jewish. And having grown up in all the countries that I grew up in, you just inevitably come across a lot of anti-Semitism. Today, in this day and age, I think people are much more aware of it because it's kind of everywhere, along with a few other annoying things. When the terrorists stormed into Charlie Hebdo in France and killed a lot of innocent people, at the same time they also stormed into a kosher supermarket in France, and they gunned down a few people; held them hostage, and killed them.

Eitan:
A friend of mine who had been living in Israel, who is a very dear friend, she lives in France now with her husband. I called her just to see how she was doing, and she said, "I'm terrified. I don't tell anyone that I'm Jewish. I've never told anyone that I've lived in Israel, I'm just too scared."

Eitan:
And so, that night I sat down and I wrote, I'm That Jew. It was kind of a letter to her to let her know that I'm with her. That was the basis. And I published it on a platform here, a blog post.

Eitan:
Pretty soon after I did that, people started sharing it. And then, one of the comments that you got in the comment section was, "Glad to know I'm not the only person that feels this way, too." And then I realized it had to be a video, because it was resonating.

Terri:
The thing that makes it so interesting: it's not a narrative in a traditional sense. It's the I'm that Jew, I'm this Jew, da, da. And it's, of course, visually exciting because we see all these clips of movie stars, and shows, and pieces of pop culture that we know, pieces of history that we know well; all these touch points that shows you sent a love letter to Jews to not to feel alone or scared, and that you will be speaking up for yourself, no matter what. It seems to be a reaction to this terrible hatred that is polarizing everyone.

Eitan:
A lot of people think that it was a message against anti-Semitism, and what it really was, it was a message to people with my background, and my heritage, and my culture, my community, saying, "We're going to get through this shit, and we're bigger, and we're stronger." And what's really nice is I did create it a few years ago, and it's still being shared.

Terri:
And it was on several platforms, right? So it was uploaded to YouTube, it was on your blog, so it's a couple places. When you look at the YouTube, you're like, okay, it's 1.7 million. But collectively, across all the places that you've shared it, that's a lot of people.

Eitan:
Well, the most interesting place is actually Facebook because I put it on Facebook and it got around, I think, two and a half million on Facebook. But what's really interesting is on YouTube the comments can be anonymous, and there's been a lot of hatred on the YouTube channel. And what I do is I control the comments, so I delete them. But on Facebook, it's not anonymous, so there's much, much, much more love. I think the last time I checked, it's around 4,000 comments. That's the thing that gets me, because it's from the comments that you feel ... like, you can say 2.5 million views on Facebook, great. And you can say 3.5, not big, but when you start reading the comments and you see what people have written in solidarity ... Jewish people, not Jewish people ... it feels really good.

Eitan:
It does feel good to put something good into the world that has instilled a sense of pride. It feels good to create, and it feels good to deliver something positive, whether it's on the DNA of a company for ... We think of companies as, "That's a big company," but these companies are started by people who have a dream, and they have a vision, and they have a family. And these are the people that you're sitting opposite when you are working. It's not doing the branding at some cold building, you're—

Terri:
Right, right. These are people. Look, Eitan, this is what you do. You just are funneling it in directions of clients, and in directions of your own interests, and passions, and fears, right?

Eitan:
Sure.

Terri:
When you make things and you're a maker ... like, so many other Emerson alumni, they make things... this is in your blood to do it. It's just that not everyone creates something that 10 million people see. Without that one video, you still have an amazing career, but this, this creating and contributing to a larger cultural conversation, this couldn't have happened 30 years ago in quite the same way, right?

Eitan:
That's right. Yes.

Terri:
So now we're living in a world where we can participate and channel it. And I'm curious as to how that video and the way in which it spread like wildfire, how does that change a person's life? Or did it?

Eitan:
You mean mine?

Terri:
Yeah. You. Look, Eitan, everyone in the world wants to have a viral flipping video. They don't even want to make a video unless someone tells them how to make it viral, which is laughable. You were tentatively sharing it, which means it was in line and in integrity with you, but then you shared it, and then it went out into the world, and you weren't trying to make it viral but there it went. What happens after that happens?

Eitan:
It was a little scary.

Terri:
Why?

Eitan:
And I talk about this, because I was invited to do a—

Terri:
You did a TED Talk about it. It's creating its own content at this point.

Eitan:
Yeah, yeah. This desire to put something out there was fueled by a sense of sadness, and a sense of: Why does the world have to be this way? What did we ever do, except for be who we are? Which is pretty fucking amazing if you ask me. That's where it came from.

Eitan:
And then, the Jewish people are not famous for ... there's Black Power, there's the gay rights movement, the women's movement, and then there's the Jewish people's movement. The Jewish people's movement is not something that's super public because of the stigma of anti-Semitism, I think. And so, you don't get a lot of Jewish people coming out and saying, "Yo, Black Power," or wearing rainbow shirts, or holding up signs that say, "Me too." It's because, I think, of anti-Semitism, Jewish people feel afraid many times.

Eitan:
So by nature of the fact that I was putting it on Facebook, it was a declaration. It was a statement. When the video came out, it was accompanied with, "My name is Eitan Chitayat, and I'm that Jew," and the hope was maybe other people would do it. Now, when I did that, I had a conversation with my wife. I was like, "Do I put this out there publicly? Or do I do this anonymously?" And what's the point of saying, "I'm that Jew" if you're going to do it anonymously?

Terri:
Right. Right.

Eitan:
To answer your question, the day after, for two or three days I was in shock because it just skyrocketed. And then one morning, in the middle of the night, I just looked at all the comments and I burst into tears, because it was very moving what people were writing. And then things that people have written to me, the gratitude that I get, the thanks that I get for somehow being able to tap into something, or express something that so many people have wanted to say and never knew how, it's humbling. And I feel the same way many times when I look at myself and I go, "Where did that come from?" Something that you always felt, but all of a sudden you were able to put into words and it resonated ... it humbled me, and it made the world a little bigger, and it made the world a little smaller at the same time.

Eitan:
And it went beyond the Jewish thing because a lot of non-Jewish people wrote. And a lot of people said, "You know what? I'm that Jew too."

Eitan:
In terms of professionally, how it changed my world is that I've been stopped in the street sometimes.

Terri:
Really?

Eitan:
Yeah, here in Israel, in Tel Aviv. It's a small city and people say, "Hey, are you Eitan? Blah, blah, blah." And I'm like, okay.

Eitan:
I think the interesting thing is you have a lot of people that when they come out with something that becomes very popular, whether it's viral or some piece of marketing, you can very easily become put in a box, I guess. I am not just that Jew. My heritage is important to me and I made a film about it, but I've made films about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. So I think what was kind of difficult for me was ... and I want to talk about the difficult things, as well. Like you said way at the beginning, it looks all nice and shiny and pretty, but what we do, there's lots of challenges. And one of the challenges was: Am I going to be defined by this?

Terri:
Well, that's the fear, that once you do the thing, will anyone see it? Then when everyone sees it, that's what you are. So talk about that. Do you feel defined by this one piece of work, and is that good or bad?

Eitan:
No, I don't, and it was a very conscious decision, though. I guess what I was trying to say before is that a lot of people have had successful videos, and because it was successful they keep producing the same type of stuff. And you have a lot of people, at least in the Jewish advocacy world, they become Jewish celebrities, and that's not me. So a lot of people have said, "When's the second one coming out?"

Terri:
Oh, I see. You're like, "I'm not doing the Jewish sequel." You're not interested in doing a series of them. People will serve up what they think other people want, if it keeps that attention, but you're saying you're not interested.

Eitan:
I think you've got to do it for the right reasons. And that came from a very pure place, and you could ride the bandwagon. And I have, in some ways, like I've used it to further my career in terms of, we won an account at Natie to do the branding for the global Jewish Agency for Israel, which is, I think, the biggest Jewish organization in the world. And I didn't get it because of I'm That Jew, but it didn't hurt.

Eitan:
But I think it's really important ... and I think this is important to say ... you've got to stay true to who you are. And it's not that that's not who I am. It is, but it's not the only thing that I am. And there are other things that I want to put out there, and other things that I want to do.

Terri:
If you could whisper back now through time and tell the younger you at Emerson, "Hey, keep this in mind, or watch out for this," is there anything you would say to yourself?

Eitan:
I think I would say to myself two things. I would say "Live in the moment more." I think we get very stressed and anxious about not knowing what's going to happen, and ultimately things usually work out. So you just have to enjoy the uncertainty, which is something that ... I'm 48 now and I'm still working on. So I would definitely say, "Be more present."

Eitan:
I would also say, "Continue to be true to yourself." And that's one thing that I always have been, which is true to myself. It was the reason for me butting heads with a lot of my bosses during my career, and not getting along with ... I was terrible at managing up. Absolutely awful.

Terri:
Oh, really? You're bad at it.

Eitan:
Awful, awful.

Terri:
Why are you bad at it? You have a problem with authority?

Eitan:
Yeah. I have a problem with people telling me what to do.

Terri:
Yes. Oh, welcome to Emerson, yes.

Eitan:
I have a problem with people telling me what to do, unless the person is coming from a good place. And the reason I'm saying "Be true to yourself," is because I've always challenged people, and that's part of my nature. I question, and I don't do it from a bad place; it's not challenge for the sake of challenging. But if I have a question about something or someone, or if I have an opinion, I'll put it out there. And a lot of times, people don't want your opinion. They just want you to do what it is you need them to do.

Eitan:
And now, as a seasoned entrepreneur, creative director, whatever, then yeah, it's kind of annoying sometimes when someone pipes up when you're just trying to get something done, and he gives you his opinion or her opinion; it's just like, "Come on, it's go time. We've got to go." So I understand a lot of times where people were coming from, but at the same time, that "I need to do this a certain way" has led me to opening a branding agency and working with some of the best clients in the world, because I understand now why I was butting heads because I was very passionate and I had some type of, I guess, a leadership quality. I saw things differently, and I wanted to pursue the way that it was that I saw things, to get me to where I thought I needed to be, and where we all needed to be.

Eitan:
So in hindsight, yeah I think I've rubbed some people the wrong way. And I also feel that it made me very insecure, because you would be made to feel that way sometimes, like "What's your problem?" And now it makes perfect sense, because a lot of the people that I know from back in the day, some of them are not working for themselves. They don't have that entrepreneurial spirit that I had, and I still have. So I think that I would whisper just, "Keep keeping true to yourself," because it's going to work out. And it did. One day, I just said, "I'm going to form my own agency and work for myself." And here I am.

Terri:
The lesson, kids, is if you have trouble managing up, start your own business and don't work for anyone else again, because that's the sign.

Terri:
But you know what's interesting to me, Eitan, is like, now you're in charge and now you have people who report to you, and when they push back, are you like, "Oh boy, I know this is karma coming around."

Eitan:
Back to the whole "it's very glamorous, it looks very glamorous." It's not so glamorous. Look, Natie is a boutique international branding agency. We're very, very tight knit group. The team is made up of some phenomenal talent that are permanent freelance, mostly. I don't have people reporting to me. I work with the people that I want to work with, and they work with me because they want to work with me. These are people who are my partners, and they'll challenge me. They'll challenge me and we'll have a conversation about it. I don't like to work with people who aren't nice people.

Terri:
That's the benefit of boutique.

Eitan:
Yeah.

Terri:
You're not churning and burning. It's kind of like you get to pick who your clients are, and you pick who you do your work with.

Eitan:
Yeah. 100%. That is a value. We've said "No" to some very, very big clients that other friends in the industry and colleagues have said, "What are you doing, Eitan? How could you not work with them? And I said, "Well, the guy was a dick."

Terri:
Yeah, that's it. It's never worth it. And I would say the same thing to myself, it's never worth it for that thing because your life will be a hell on earth if you do not like working with this person. No one works with a logo. They work with the person who you have to work with. And if you can't get along with them, to me, it's not worth it at all.

Eitan:
Well, I've got to challenge you there, because the kids are listening, but it is worth it if you don't have a choice. You just have to do it.

Terri:
Oh no, if you need the money—

Eitan:
Yeah. If you need the money, you've got to.

Terri:
And you want that cred.

Eitan:
Then you do it.

Terri:
Yeah, but when you get to a certain point, hopefully.

Eitan:
Yeah. Exactly, hopefully. Tomorrow we might not have those clients knocking on our door.

Eitan:
I hope it doesn't sound arrogant or facetious, but I feel very blessed that for the most part, we were able to work with who we want to work with. I think 2019 was one of our best years in a long time, not because of the revenues and the money, which was lovely. It was because we actually didn't have a single, annoying, pesky, rude client. And you always have one of those. It's human nature—

Terri:
Always.

Eitan:
... in every industry, every category, no matter what you do. But yeah, I feel blessed. I feel absolutely blessed.

Terri:
Yes. Well, here's why I say that. Look, we all need to pay our bills.

Eitan:
True.

Terri:
Absolutely. We have to take work when we have to take it. But I have found that if I am very careful about who I work with, it also makes me very cognizant of making sure I'm the kind of person people want to work with. If I'm going to be that way, I deserve that kind of treatment. That's all I'm saying, is that if you want to be and have great clients, we have to be good citizens of the world—

Eitan:
Yes.

Terri:
... and treat people well, not be an arrogant prick. Of course, that's not the goal.

Eitan:
You're 100% correct. And I will say that when you're young, you don't know when you're being abused. You don't know when someone's being out of line, you're just kind of like, "Ah, is this the way it's meant to be?"

Eitan:
I'm also very grateful for the interns that we have that come here because I learn so much from our interns. We have, in Tel Aviv, an internship, part of a few internship programs, where interns come and work with us for two months, for four months, for five months. And they're amazing. We get so much from people who work with us. A good idea can come from anywhere, but it's hard work, which is what I believe in, and working with good people, and good people come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, all levels of experience, and anyone can come with a good idea.

Eitan:
So I think that's very important to carry with you when you're at the start of your career, and when you're making it. And to stay humble and to stay grounded, it keeps you honest.

Terri:
How can someone find out about that internship program? If there are students, people are listening, they want to learn more about it, maybe they want to come do one, where can they go?

Eitan:
Oh, well, there's a program called Masa, M-A-S-A, and they have a program. And actually, part of the program is to come to Israel and to get work experience here. It's a wonderful program.

Terri:
Now last question for you. What does it mean for you, Eitan Chitayat, to make it, and how will you know when you get there?

Eitan:
When my son was born, almost seven years ago, after a couple of days in the hospital, my wife and I came home. I carried him in that little chair thingy up the stairs and then placed him at the entrance of the house, inside. And I kissed him and I said, "This is home." And I had five people waiting for me downstairs in a van because we had a meeting to get to.

Eitan:
I went downstairs and I went to the meeting, and it was a very good meeting and we got the client. And I was thinking, "This is a little fucked up." I came home and I sat down with my wife. At this stage, I was traveling around five or six times a year for work, and I was working around the clock, as you should, because you're trying to build your career. Natie was starting to evolve.

Eitan:
And I just made the decision, right there and then, that I want to be there for my kid, which meant that I was going to have to make a change. I was going to have to try and find a way to make it work, coming home and being there consistently. I remember that day very, very well. And then our second son was born around two years later. So for the past, almost seven years, I work my ass off, as does my team, to deliver the highest quality international branding, and being very, very focused on being a present father, and being a present family man, and trying to work hard to maintain that balance and not to slip into the danger zone of working around the clock, flying everywhere all the time, and not being there for your kids.

Eitan:
Maybe that's because I got married a little late and having kids a little later in life, but I'm hyper focused on quality of family life, and being there for my children and my wife, and delivering the very best work that I can for my clients without burning out. And that is what makes me rich, rich in spirit. That's what I mean when I say rich ... rich in spirit, and rich in life. And that is me making it.

Eitan:
I don't think I'm ever going to be rich and wealthy and make it, in that sense, doing what I do. It's enough for me to make a decent living, and to be a good family guy, and to put some good out into the world, outside of work, and to also deliver work at the highest standards that I possibly can. And if I can do that and teach people in the process, when interns come in, or lecturing, then that to me is making it.

Terri:
Well, Eitan Chitayat, I think you made it. You made it. Congratulations!

Terri:
And we've made it. We made it big in under 30 minutes.

Eitan:
Wow.

Terri:
So, thank you so much.

Terri:
"Making It Big in 30 Minutes" is a production of Emerson College, bringing innovation to communication and the arts. Sponsored by the Emerson College Office of Alumni Engagement and supported by the alumni Board of Directors.

Terri:
Our theme music was written by Phantoms and Avocado Junkie.

Terri:
For more information about the alumni association, please visit emerson.edu/alumni, where you can also find bonus material from the show.

Terri:
I'm Terri Trespecio. Thanks for listening.