Breaking the Rules at Deutsch

Creative chief Kerry Keenan wants to act small, win big


Who Kerry Keenan

New gig Chief creative officer, Deutsch, New York

Old gig Global executive creative director, YR Entertainment

Twitter @kerry_keenan

Age 45

After studying religion in college, how did you end up in advertising?

I spent one-and-a-half years in India while in college and religion found me. I studied Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam and Christianity from a different perspective from my Catholic background. I was a big reader—I was an English major as well—so religion was the political side to all the books I loved. What it has to do with advertising is that maybe it was the opiate to the masses. When you study something like that, you have different perspectives and it gives you the chance to look at something from more than one place. As a creative you have to be able to do that.

What was your first ad job?

I started as an intern at BBDO for [creative director] Charlie Miesmer. I had no advertising experience and I think he thought I was funny. He asked to see my advertising book, and I said I hadn’t written one yet but I’d like to someday. A couple of weeks later I was taking briefs off the copy machine, and I presented an idea for Sun Chips, a new brand, and sold it. I was 22.

You’ve had some very senior-level jobs. Why don’t we see more women in top roles?

There are a lot of women at high levels of the industry but not in creative departments. Why that is, I’m not sure. But I am sure it is changing fast. Within the next 10 years we’ll see more of an appropriate ratio because people now in my position don’t look at gender when they look at portfolios, they look at the work. They look at the person who is either really good or not so good and make decisions that way about who is coming up through the ranks.

What were your first impressions of Deutsch? What surprised you the most?

People either don’t leave Deutsch or they’re called boomerangers, they come back. In our industry it’s perfectly normal to have 10 jobs on your resume by the time you’re 40. You don’t find that here. That was a real surprise. People become part of the family here and they stay.

What’s been your focus since joining the agency?

We had work to do to create an environment where our studio is more creatively integrated. We needed to have our younger art directors and copywriters not just getting the runoff of work that’s hard to do which nobody wants to handle. We needed to make sure everyone is getting their assignments from scratch so they could learn how to answer a brief and develop their skills. So we’re acting like a much smaller shop than we are, a lot more entrepreneurial. We have meetings once a month with each team, asking what are they doing that’s not assigned.

What do you do when you’re not working?

If I’m not working, I watch TV. It’s how I relax. There’s a show called Hannibal, about Hannibal Lecter. It’s not a cooking show, but it has the most disgustingly beautiful food photography I’ve ever seen.

What is some of your favorite work and what are you looking forward to at Cannes?

I like “Momsong,” the Old Spice commercial where the moms cry because their sons are growing up. It’s only a TV spot, but sometimes that’s all it takes because right now there are no rules and it’s just craft we’re looking for. I particularly like the way Cannes is evolving with category diversity. It’s exciting when they recognize new categories like mobile and, this year, health.

Photo: Alfred Maskeroni

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