HHCC’s Burned-Out Creative Leader Takes Hiatus
BOSTON-On a recent Sunday, Mike Sheehan’s 75-year-old father suggested the two take a boat ride together. The creative director of Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos turned him down, knowing he had to catch an afternoon shuttle to New York.
Last week, Sheehan looked at his calendar and realized that as of May 24, he had spent just three days of the month in Boston. The 38-year-old Sheehan then made a decision he had been wrestling with for some time: He resigned. “I’m beat,” he told Adweek.
Sheehan plans to take the summer off, get ready for his wedding in the fall and explore freelance writing opportunities and possibly “other facets of the business,” he said.
How Sheehan will be replaced atop Hill, Holliday’s 90-member creative department has not yet been determined. “There needs to be clear leadership and support for the senior teams,” said president Fred Bertino.
Meanwhile, offers are rolling in and bets are being made. One source said Sheehan is considering a post at Young & Rubicam in New York. Although he dismissed that notion, some who know him well believe that a stint at a larger agency in New York, where he has never worked, is a possibility. Some inside Hill, Holliday are already marking on calendars the day of Sheehan’s return to the agency, believing the Bay State native won’t stray too far.
Some friends and colleagues believe Sheehan, who joined Hill, Holliday five years ago from Houston Effler & Partners, has worked at the expense of his personal life. “Mike has given so much to Hill, Holliday and the place has exploded, but he has sacrificed a lot of living to help make that happen,” said Hill, Holliday copywriter Marty Donahue.
The Boston shop experienced its best fiscal year in 1998, ballooning 31 percent to $92 million in revenues and pulling in new business from Fidelity Investments and Dunkin’ Donuts, among others. It also was the year Hill, Holliday sold to the Interpublic Group of Cos. Sheehan was among a small group of top executives to be given shares of the New York-based holding company.
What’s next for the creative department? A couple of different plans are under consideration, although agency insiders said it is likely Sheehan will be replaced. Bertino noted there are “a lot of people who are ready to step up into more senior roles. We have to recalibrate the leadership of the creative department in terms of talent and leadership on pieces of business and maybe it will create some opportunities for our senior people. We have some teams that could be creative directors in lots of other places.”
Still, Bertino said, the agency is much larger today than when Sheehan stepped up to take the lead role less than three years ago. “Maybe it is too much for one person.”
Bertino last week assured members of the creative department that “out of chaos comes opportunity,” Donahue recounted. That’s a Hill, Holliday tradition.