Six Things You Didn't Know About Mullen's Margaret Keene

On Lying To Steve Jobs, And Her Mom's Letter To Lee Clow

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Margaret Keene
Margaret Keene

Longtime Los Angeles creative Margaret Keene spent a good chunk of her career at TBWA/Chiat/Day. The last few years she has worked mostly on auto accounts, at Publicis Groupe's Saatchi & Saatchi and now at Mullen, which handles Acura. She joined the Interpublic Group of Cos. agency as executive creative director in July.

Throughout her nearly 20 years at TBWA, Ms. Keene worked closely with creative leader Lee Clow, now chairman of TBWA/Media Arts Lab. Her portfolio from her time at TBWA includes work for Apple, Levi's, Taco Bell, Infiniti, Nissan, Pedigree, Whiskas and more. In 2011, she moved to Saatchi's Los Angeles office as a senior creative on the Toyota account. Now that she's settled in as the top creative at Mullen's L.A. office, we caught up with Ms. Keene for the latest installment of "Six Things":

1. She grew up in a trailer park. Ms. Keene and her mother spent much of her childhood in what Ms. Keene called a "mobile estate" in Orange County. "You know how everyone makes trailer park jokes?" she said. "They say things like, 'You know how trailer park people are,' and then I say, 'I grew up in a trailer park," a conversation that could end in an awkward pause. "If you ever think about trailer park trash, that's me."

2. Her maiden name is Midgett. Kids can be ruthless, and Ms. Keene's experience was no exception. "In 1976 when you have a bad perm and glasses" and a last name that when spoken sounds the same as a disparaging term, Ms. Keene said, "it's a little rough."

3. She started at TBWA as a switchboard operator, and became Lee Clow's assistant. "My dream was to work at Chiat and work for Lee Clow." She interviewed at TBWA a dozen times before they finally gave her a switchboard operator job. She soon became an assistant to the creative directors, and then Mr. Clow's own assistant. She moved up TBWA's creative ladder until she joined Saatchi in 2011.

4. She was almost attacked by a young shark. An 8-foot shark scarily swam under her surfboard. A friend said later that it was only a "juvenile," but she thought to herself, "Yeah, not really comforting."

5. She lied to Steve Jobs. Mr Jobs invited Ms. Keene to Apple's headquarters after she worked on some outdoor ads that he liked. He asked her how much media they bought for the ads, and even though she had no idea, she made up a number because she felt like "he was the kind of guy where you couldn't say you didn't know." Mr. Jobs told her he wanted to triple the media buy, and that got her in trouble with her media counterparts. "The poor media guys had to deal with it. They were really pissed because I got it very wrong and it ended up being very expensive." Her lesson? "Just don't lie. It's always worse when you do."

6. Her mom sent a Hallmark card to Lee Clow. "So embarrassing," she said, noting that she was making an ongoing effort to impress Mr. Clow and prove to him she could handle herself and the job. Then her mother wrote Mr. Clow a note in a Hallmark card saying that she hoped Mr. Clow would take care of her, and told him that Ms. Keene gushed about him and had always wanted to work with him. "I was so mortified. I was trying to be one of those cool, young L.A. people." Mr. Clow, she said, still brings it up when they see each other.

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