Kevin Kehoe

Publicis in Seattle was known largely as a retail operation when Kehoe, 41, left his art director job at Goodby, Silverstein & Partners to become co-president and chief creative officer there in 2001. After adding a who’s who of creatives and account-team members, Kehoe, a Red Sox fan, declares it’s “game time” for the shop. What else might one expect from the new-business executive who was confident enough to get his bosses at Leonard Monahan Lubars & Kelly to agree, back in 1989, that if his efforts to win Keds paid off, he’d be named an assistant art director?

Interviewed by Rebecca Flass

Q. What was your first ad?

A. It was a very important ad: Find an executive assistant for Bruce Leonard, who was one of the principals at [former Providence, R.I., shop] Leonard Monahan Lubars & Kelly. It said, “Monahan Lubars & Kelly. We need to find an executive assistant to keep track of Leonard.”

Who has had the greatest influence on your career?

Tom Monahan [creative director at LML&K]. I was the greenest creative—I was an assistant art director, sitting down with Tom Monahan to work on an ad. It was my third ad and his 30,000th. I’m not sure who was more excited, me or him. He was like a kid at Christmas. I thought, “He loves this process, he loves this job, and there must be a reason for it.” What I wanted to do was throw myself in this business the way he was. He had infectious enthusiasm and passion.

When you first joined Publicis in Seattle, you said you wanted to move away from the shop’s retail roots and improve its creative reputation. How successful have you been?

We’ve been very successful, and we’re ahead of schedule. However, our biggest moments and our best work are ahead of us. The notion of flipping an agency is … there’s probably no bigger a challenge in advertising than doing that.

Publicis made it into the finals for some hotly contested pitches last year [Hyundai and]. What have you learned from those experiences?

Those pitches have been the most valuable lessons we’ve had in learning about our own potential. People say you’re not a man until you’ve had your heart broken. We’ve had our heart broken twice, and we have taken it seriously and have worked on our new-business machine. We are an agency in transition that is getting invited into the most prestigious pitches in America. I’m sitting in the same room as Hal Riney. I never sat in the same room with him when I worked there [from 1996-98]. We entered as a wild card and almost won.

How has moving from an art director job to a leadership position changed you?

It’s a huge jump. I have a healthy dose of naiveté that, all through my life, has allowed me to jump into things I didn’t know too much about. When I left Goodby, I told them I was going to find out what I was made of. I have found out what I was made of.

What are you made of?

Passion, determination and intensity.

How would others describe you?

Short. They’d describe me as dedicated, optimistic and approachable. And short.

What’s the smartest business decision you’ve ever made?

Calling Randy Browning [now chairman and CEO of Publicis in Seattle] to do this with me. If you’re going to make something out of nothing, it’s better to do it with someone who could actually pull it off. Actually, that was the second-best decision. He said no the first time, so I called him back. He’s a freak of nature, this is his drug, and he has the best creative instincts of any CEO in America. Plus, he likes me.

How do you overcome a creative block?

I usually do my best thinking at the dog park.

What was the last CD you bought?

Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Dixie Chicks for my wife and Johnny Cash for the dog. He’s a Burmese mountain dog—he likes anything Western.

What is it like working with [co-president and ecd] Bob Moore?

I have learned an incredible amount from Bob Moore. He and I had automatic chemistry, and it’s created this amazing balance. He has helped me dimensionalize my creative-director skills.

What is your dream assignment?

Probably to launch a car company. Selfishly, I love cars, and I remember how much fun it was working on Saturn.

What would you refuse to work on?

I would rather blow my head off than promote cigarettes.

Name the last ad that made you think, “I wish I had done that.”

Black Rocket’s Musco Olives spot called “Orphanage.” It was Bob Kerstetter’s first directorial spot. Originality’s a 10. Storytelling is a 10. Production quality is a 10. If there was a Russian judge, he’d have to give it a 10. It’s the most surprising, unexpected journey you can take to end on olives. It just goes to show that you can do great work on anything.

What’s your personal motto?

Go big or go home.

Your biggest fear?

Dying before the Red Sox win a World Series.

What’s your impression of Maurice Lévy?

He couldn’t be more serious about making Publicis a top-tier network in the States. I told him we’d make this agency hot, and he looked me in the eye and said, “Make it red hot.” He’s a man on a mission.