The Player: O'Keefe looks to work FCB Taco Bell magic on KFC

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As KFC bows its latest branding effort from new agency Foote Cone & Belding, Chicago, promoting the health benefits of fried chicken, it will be the Interpublic agency's first test of whether it has hit on the right strategy.

FCB executives will be hoping they can repeat the magic they created for Yum Brands sibling Taco Bell.

In winning the $200 million account last month over incumbent Omnicom Group's BBDO Worldwide, New York, Tom O'Keefe used the same discipline he employed in fleshing out Taco Bell's pivotal "Think Outside the Bun" campaign.

Jeffrey Fox, VP-national marketing, Taco Bell, credits Mr. O'Keefe as "instrumental in bringing the Taco Bell brand voice to life." Although he considers Mr. O'Keefe a friend and confidant, he said it was FCB's work on Taco Bell that opened the door for the KFC pitch.

"When he gets a hold of a brand in his mind, he holds onto that vision like a rottweiler on a steak bone and he never lets go," said Bob Gale, exec VP, FCB, San Francisco.

"Knowing where you've got to start from, that was the training I got here working on package goods," Mr. O'Keefe said. "We're not doing a sitcom. We're not making a movie. It's an ad and an ad can be great and you shouldn't be ashamed to make ads."

Such focused commitment to the brand and selling is something Mr. O'Keefe developed early in his career writing direct marketing copy for the Mood Ring and the Dice-O-Matic while still a college student. In 1990, he joined FCB as a writer working on a variety of brands, including Adolph Coors Co.'s still-running "bitter face" campaign for Keystone beer. In 1995, Mr. O'Keefe left the agency for eight months to "have a cup of coffee" with Ogilvy & Mather, Chicago, before returning to FCB as a creative director.

Four years later, he turned down a promotion to lead the Chicago creative department, instead opting to head west to FCB's San Francisco office to "get more experience" as a writer. There he helped to create's famous "holiday sweatermen" effort before joining the Taco Bell creative team as senior VP-client creative director that eventually won the permanent brand assignment.


"He was one of the few people I'd met who just seemed to have the qualities I've always thought should be in an [executive creative director]," said Jonathan Harries, FCB worldwide creative director-chairman of the Chicago office, adding he was "impressed" with Mr. O'Keefe's self-awareness. The two stayed in touch and in November 2002, Mr. Harries gave Mr. O'Keefe the Chicago creative lead in an effort to rebuild the agency following its $350 million PepsiCo/Quaker Foods loss the year earlier.

Back in Chicago, Mr. O'Keefe made it his mission to put the Windy City back on top and within two months of his appointment, FCB added Hampton Inns as a client. The KFC win is among the biggest accounts to move to Chicago this year. "I want to see Chicago do great and if we can do anything about it here then hooray for us," Mr. O'Keefe said.

Fast Facts

Name: Tom O'Keefe

Age: 40

Now: Executive creative director, Foote, Cone & Belding Worldwide, Chicago

Challenge: To make new client KFC's advertising live up to the campaign for Yum Brands sibling Taco Bell.

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