This Account Director Splits Her Time Between Helping Clients and Saving Rhinos in South Africa

Kennedy Zakeer's agency, PMH, supports both ventures

It costs about $10,000 a year in supplies to care for just one rhino on a reserve in South Africa. councilofcontributors
Headshot of Lindsay Rittenhouse

The practice of rhino poaching has increased 9,300 percent since 2007. Three rhinos are killed for their horns every day—and if something isn’t done to help save them, the endangered species is expected to be wiped out of the wild within 20 years.

That’s according to the Council of Contributors, a nonprofit started by activist Kennedy Zakeer, who doubles as account director at Minneapolis creative agency Peterson Milla Hooks (PMH).

You see, Zakeer is not your average agency employee.

Armed with her love of animals and support from PMH, she currently splits her time between the Minnesota office, where she works on accounts such as Sleep Number, and rhino reserves across South Africa, where she leads and advocates for her true passion, Council of Contributors, which she launched last June. The nonprofit supports large, small and grassroots organizations that help protect rhinos on a daily basis—and it’s now also one of PMH’s newest clients.

“I’ve always been someone drawn to the off-the-beaten-path places,” Zakeer told Adweek.

Her history with PMH dates back to 1996, when she took her first job as an account executive. It wasn’t until 2001 that she found herself yearning for something more and decided to make a giant career leap, resigning from her position at the agency to move to Africa, where she remained for 12 years.

“Africa had a grip on me from the first time I stepped foot there,” Zakeer said.

She did continue to pursue her marketing career, joining Durban, South Africa-based agency Modern Museum Advertising. However, she found her true purpose in life while volunteering on reserves caring for young orphaned rhinos. “I worked 17-hour days, looking after rhinos, helping vets monitor their progress … it was full hands on [work],” she explained.

She eventually came back to the States but “knew that was not going to be the end of my experience with the rhinos.” In 2015, she returned to PMH and sorted out a deal with the agency to pick up project work and serve as an account director but not quite join as a “permanent employee.” She still traveled to South Africa to work on reserves and rhino orphanages, but she declines to confirm exactly where in order to protect the animals from being sought out by poachers.

It wasn’t until last summer that her work with rhinos intersected with her work at PMH.

Zakeer founded the Council of Contributors only after two of the orphaned baby rhinos she cared for, Impy and Gugu, were killed and poached for their horns.

“They were attacked and they were killed … it was completely heartbreaking,” Zakeer said.

She realized then more had to be done to raise awareness for the endangered species. And luckily for her, PMH was happy to help the cause.

Along with allowing her to be absent from the office to support the Council of Contributors, the creative shop took her nonprofit on as a client pro bono. Assigning senior-level creatives to the account, PMH just recently launched a new brand ID, social media assets, a website design, branded apparel and other assets for the Council of Contributors.

On the website, viewers can track the group’s progress and donate to its efforts.

Zakeer said it costs about $10,000 a year in supplies to care for just one rhino on a reserve in South Africa. The Council of Contributors has so far completed nine projects, including one in which it donated funds to help cover the cost of tranquilizers for 29 “vulnerable” rhinos who, it said, “urgently need their horns trimmed.” Horns are kept short so poachers don’t target the animals.

Since she’s now known for her efforts on the Council of Contributors, Zakeer even got invited to the funeral of Sudan, the world’s last white male rhino, who died in Kenya at the age of 45 in March.

“Rhinos are just big, clumsy, gentle creatures,” Zakeer said. “They’re simple, solitary and sweet.”

She then described the fact that she’s able to care for them while also keeping her agency job as “a good gig.”

@kitten_mouse Lindsay Rittenhouse is a staff writer at Adweek, where she specializes in covering the world of agencies and their clients.