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So You Want My Job? TikTok’s Khartoon Weiss on bridging media and creative

Khartoon Weiss of TikTok discusses growing up in New York and an unconventional introduction to the world of business

Welcome to So You Want My Job? where each week we ask the people working in some of the industry’s coolest jobs about how they got where they are. And, along the way, we dig into their philosophies, inspirations, processes and experiences. Hopefully, our interviewees can help inspire you to pursue (or create) a job that’s just as exciting.

This week, we catch up with Khartoon Weiss, head of global agency and accounts at TikTok.

What did you want to be when you were growing up?

I wanted to be a doctor because I was raised to take care of my big brothers, or a vet because I’m obsessed with animals. But when I learned I’d care for more sick than healthy lives, I drifted away from medicine. I still care for people and animals, just with absolutely zero medical training. #watchoutnow

Does your job now resemble that in any way?

Not at all. My job resembles that of a fire fighter or janitor, builder or general contractor, depending on the day.

How did you get your current job? How did you get it?

Alright, picture it… NYC, circa 1992. I was 14, and my mom said “get a job or go spend the summer with your dad in LA.” Now, LA is death to a teenager from NYC. You can’t walk anywhere, you’re too young to drive anywhere, you’re basically stuck at home like it’s today’s pandemic but this is back in the 80’s where there was no internet and at-home content wasn’t what it is now.

So I got a receptionist job at a NYC stock brokerage house, or what we’d call a “chop shop.” I picked things up pretty fast, took on more responsibilities and by the end of that first summer I was a key team member running back-office operations and acting as the brokers’ sales assistant, so I stayed working through the school years as well. This place was typical ’Wolf of Wall Street’ with brokers under their desks yelling and selling, and jumping on top of the tables when deals closed; I loved the energy and developed a head for business.

But I also grew up around super creative minds and talented kids who were actors and dancers, musical prodigies, sports gods and ballerinas. When I graduated from college, I was hell bent on entering a professional arena that both drove business and brought creativity to the forefront every day.

My first real gig was at Grey Worldwide (rest in peace) where I was an assistant account executive with an office (that I could smoke in) at 777 Third Avenue. I loved it. I loved creative problem solving and have to this day. After about a dozen years in world class creative shops like Grey, Ogilvy and BBDO, I wanted to head to the other side of the ad business, the ’pull’ side after pushing ads for so long.

I got the opportunity to join Bob Pittman’s team to transform a radio company into a media and entertainment company, joining Clear Channel to help turn it into iHeartMedia.

One pivotal client meeting made me realize that data and analytics were driving the decisioning. I moved to the media side shortly thereafter and learned a new language. That singular move changed the trajectory of my career. I then worked at Spotify before joining ByteDance, I haven’t looked back. It’s been a wild, educational, continued-learning kind of a ride! And bringing that holistic background to TikTok is one of my greatest professional honors.

Did you take an unusual route to get where you are or was it pretty standard?

I wish there were more hybrid creative/media professionals in our field but outside of a small subset, I’d say we’re pretty rare and my route is likely considered unconventional.

Any obstacles/funny stories along the way? Anything you would do differently?

Obstacles: plenty! I checked two boxes when walking into most rooms: woman and person of color, so I had to channel more confidence than was born into me to stay in those rooms.

Funny… well, I’d say memorable: I’ve met some of the most intelligent, impressive, warm and hilarious people over the course of my career. I’ve met soul mates along the way. This industry is full of incredible souls, and I’m lucky to have collected a few of them, and laughed with thousands of them, over the years.

Do Differently: Absolutely. I’d have trusted my gut more; much more.

Ok, so what do you actually do? How would you explain your job to somebody outside your industry?

Oh, that’s easy, I tell my mom and relatives this all the time: “I spread creativity and joy around the world.”

Which is true. But what I actually do is steward and create strategic partnerships between TikTok and the world's largest global agencies and brands. We are building every day and trying to keep up with the platform's expansive growth.

Do your parents understand what it is that you do?

No, but my mom smiles encouragingly and nods her head at me like she does. #thankyoumom

What do you love most about your job?

The constant problem solving. The creative minds that inspire me with simple, brilliant thoughts. The strategists that bend my mind around behavior. The math men that make sense of data. The product teams that have future vision and make me want to sit with them for hours. The power of UGC and the creativity that exists in everyday people. The storytelling. The interpretations of life in short-form video. Learning. Virtual colleague bonding. And importantly, culture, sub-cultures and empathy felt and understood from living a global role.

How would someone entering the industry go about getting your job now? What would be their route?

Upon entering today’s industry, I’d say someone wanting my job will need to be multi-cultural. But not in the way that term is classically defined, I mean multi-cultural in a different sense:

Multi-cultural as in being accepting of many global cultures, countries, creativity and tribes.

Multi-cultural as in working for non-American tech companies and living other, potentially more diverse values.

Multi-cultural as in multi-hyphenate, such that you can bring many other knowledge sets, skills and capabilities to a table among specialists.

What advice would you offer to others entering the advertising industry, especially at this weird time?

Learn everything you can from your cross-functional colleagues around you. Whatever you can learn, learn it. Be as well-rounded as possible to bring perspective to the table! In this world of specialists, contribute in a way that goes above and beyond your remit. You’ll be invited into more rooms and sought after for your unique point of view.

What would you say is the trait that best suits you for your role?

Global citizenship. It’s easy to think “the west and the rest” when you live and operate in the US, your worldview narrows. Becoming a citizen of other countries through empathy, understanding, and cultural curiosity is critical to my role, and critical to any company’s global operation and expansion. Being adaptive and humble, genuine and inquisitive of others aren’t always traits or soft skills our roles ask us to bring forward. I feel incredibly fortunate to pull on those traits and behaviors every day.

Last week we grilled Paul Chan, chief creative officer of Cheil Hong Kong for some lessons.