Aaron O’Keefe Q&A

January 14, 2022
Aaron O'Keefe believes in couplets as well as copy.

“Kids can teach us a lot about creativity, and then we age and society snuffs that out of us. Fortunately for us, advertising is one of those few enclaves in business where creativity and imagination are valued.”

When was the moment when you decided you wanted to pursue this profession?

I was and still am passionate about literature and creative writing in college, as well cultural studies/social theory. However, I struggled to see a clear career path with both of those disciplines and, like many of us, I was feeling both internal and external pressure to think about life post college. That’s where advertising came in. Not only did it feel a bit more pragmatic and linear — to get a degree in advertising and go work at an agency — but I was intrigued by a profession that prized, and thrived on, creativity as a means to influence consumers, shape culture, and grow business.

You’ve spent your career on the agency side. Were you ever tempted to go in-house?

Yes, I’ve considered it. You hear about the pay, the hours, the work/life balance, etc., but you also hear about the monotony, the hierarchies, the rigidity, confines and lack of opportunities. And all those acronyms and business jargon; why can’t they just talk like regular humans? Of course, not all corporations are like this, and, of course, agencies can struggle with some of these issues as well. However, I love the variety of brands, challenges, and creative work at an agency — and the incredibly smart people you get to collaborate with.

What are some things you do to foster creativity in your life?

Read a variety of different literature, write (but not nearly enough), watch a lot of independent movies and HBO content, watch comedians, such as John Oliver and Stephen Colbert, visit art museums and galleries — the Weinstein Hammons Gallery is a favorite — and play with my kids (sometimes). Kids can teach us a lot about creativity, and then we age and society snuffs that out of us. Fortunately for us, advertising is one of those few enclaves in business where creativity and imagination are valued.

You’re a big reader. What are three desert island novels for you?

I’d definitely bring some poems by Robert Hass. The Apple Trees at Olema is an excellent collection of new and selected poems from his first five books. Tough call on the next two … but if I’m on a desert island, I better go big. Fiction: The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky. Nonfiction: Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin. Literary pretension aside, I should probably bring three outdoor survival books, right?

Your initials are AOK. Tired of it or made peace with it?

Made peace with it long ago. It works as a short, catchy nickname.

If you could work with one business leader in history, who would it be and why?

Milton Hershey. Besides being an eminent chocolatier and pioneer in the manufacture of caramel, he built a vibrant town in Hershey, PA, for his workers whose homes were furnished with modern amenities, such as electricity, indoor plumbing and central heating. He paid his workers well, and donated all of his stock in the company to fund educational programs for orphans and underprivileged children. Did he have some selfish or ulterior motive? Maybe. Was his charity driven by his religious beliefs? Probably. Either way, in the age of robber barons, this was, and is, a pretty radical approach to business. And how cool would it have been to work with the prolific inventor and businessman, Thomas Edison. The incandescent lightbulb, the phonograph, and many of the advances that made movies possible, including the Kinetoscope. Plus, he was a supporter of women’s suffrage and refused to invent weapons of war that would kill people … although he inadvertently invented the electric chair.