NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Six weeks into a summer internship at BBDO, New York, a 21-year old Kerry Keenan sold her first campaign. It was for Frito-Lay's SunChips brand, and she was hooked. Today, Ms. Keenan, 40, is one of Madison Avenue's woefully few female creatives in a global role.
Early on in her career, Ms. Keenan fought to avoid being relegated to work on female-oriented brands. "I was worried about being viewed as a girl running a girl's account like makeup, stockings or tampons."
The strategy worked, and the Westport, Conn., native and William Smith College grad moved on to work on the Pepsi account at BBDO. From there she launched a tour through some of the industry's most legendary shops, from Leo Burnett, Chicago, to Bartle Bogle Hegarty and the now-defunct Bozell.
One of her most interesting stops was at Leo Burnett, Poland, where Ms. Keenan -- then in her 20s -- became the first woman and youngest executive creative director to run an office in Warsaw.
Her leadership abilities were fully realized as a creative director at Saatchi & Saatchi, New York, where she was the driving force behind the agency's innovative work for blue-chip accounts such as JCPenney and Procter & Gamble. For the latter, Ms. Keenan brought home top creative honors on Crest, a Cannes Gold Lion, in 2008
It's no wonder, then, that industry vet Tony Granger coaxed her to join him when he ditched Saatchi & Saatchi to inject some creative firepower into WPP's Y&R network. "She's inspirational to the creatives that work with her and for her," said Mr. Granger, who created Ms. Keenan's current role as Y&R's global director of creative content. "When she is in an agency the creative work will improve, and she can do that for big, difficult clients."
"Kerry is whip smart, incredibly funny and very genuine," said Sara Rose, who met Ms. Keenan 12 years ago at Leo Burnett, Chicago, and is now a copywriter at Goodby, Silverstein & Partners. "She's as passionate about good ideas now as she was then. When you have that passion and can keep it, it makes you successful."
As successful as she is, Ms. Keenan frequently says the ad business is a break from the hardest gig she's ever had: as mom to Lucy and Francis, nearly two and four.