CLOSE-UP: NEWSMAKER/ADAM KEAN - Life after Saatchis is sweet for W&K’s new signing/After Saatchis’ slap in the face, Adam Kean is back He spoke to Claire Cozens.

When Kevin Roberts, worldwide chief executive of Saatchi & Saatchi, first arrived at the London agency last summer, he walked into Adam Kean’s office, gave him a big kiss on the lips and announced, ’I just love creatives’.

When Kevin Roberts, worldwide chief executive of Saatchi & Saatchi,

first arrived at the London agency last summer, he walked into Adam

Kean’s office, gave him a big kiss on the lips and announced, ’I just

love creatives’.

As Kean says, if it had happened in a movie everyone in the audience

would have known he was for the chop but at the time, he shrugged it

off. Only a few months later Roberts was telling Kean that he was no

longer creative head of the London agency.

Less than a year on, Kean has bounced back and his appointment as

creative director of Wieden & Kennedy in London seems to have taken him

as much by surprise as his unceremonious ousting from Saatchis did. He

has spent his time since leaving Saatchis trying to decide what to do

next, first considering leaving advertising altogether, then thinking of

setting up on his own. The one thing he definitely didn’t want was to do

was more of the same - it is no secret that he turned down at least one

creative director’s job at a top-ten agency.

But it was not until he got the call from Dan Wieden a few weeks ago

that Kean thought of the W&K job. ’We had a very quick chat and I just

thought great, that’s perfect, why didn’t I think of that?’ he says. ’I

didn’t know much about it but I just had a feeling it would work. I met

Hugh (Derrick, W&K’s new managing director) and he’s great. Everyone

here loves great advertising - and it’s amazing how many people in the

business don’t.’

Unusually for this industry, Kean’s CV mentions only one agency. He

joined Saatchis in 1987 on a two-week placement after a stint as a

ghostwriter for, among others, the actor, Michael Caine.

He stayed at Saatchis for 11 years, making it on to the board after just

two. In the 80s Saatchis was the place to be if you were an ambitious

young creative and Kean and his art director partner, Antony Easton,

quickly became known, appearing in Campaign’s Faces to Watch in


In 1993 Easton left and Kean teamed up with Alex Taylor, the art

director with whom he created much of his best-known work, most notably

for the Army. He was then made deputy creative director alongside James

Lowther and Simon Dicketts, now creative directors of M&C Saatchi. But

his next big break came with his first solo pitch, for the Army


’The others were away and suddenly me and Alex were running the pitch.

It was really scary - all these brigadiers and generals and I was just a

little boy. But we won it, and that’s what I’m most proud of.’

Not long after that Kean started thinking about where he could go


Offers of creative directorships elsewhere were already starting to come

in and although his loyalties lay with Saatchis, Kean says he never

thought of becoming creative director there. This was partly because he

never felt he fitted in with the likes of Bill Muirhead and David

Kershaw - they were the slick, 80s admen who dealt with the likes of BA

and the Conservatives, while he was one of the lads, working on accounts

like Castlemaine XXXX.

Even when he got the call from Lowther and Dicketts to say they had

decided to join the Saatchi brothers’ start-up in 1995, Kean says he was

not expecting the offer of the top job at Saatchi & Saatchi that came

the next day, when he was made joint creative director alongside Richard

Myers and Cliff Francis.

’It was a bit like getting the keys to the sweet shop,’ he says. ’When

Maurice and Charles left there was a blitz mentality and people looked

to the creative department to lead the way. There was the feeling that

all the people who had actually written the decent ads were still there

- and that’s what counts.’

Unfortunately, this is a view that Roberts did not seem to share. While

Saatchis maintained its creative reputation by producing excellent work

for a few key clients, its output was viewed as inconsistent. Roberts

clearly felt that something had to be done.

Bitterness over his treatment at the hands of his former employers is

hard to detect in Kean, but he is critical of the way things at Saatchis

have changed. He believes the agency has gone from being led by the

creative department to viewing it as merely the hired hands who make the


The fact that Roberts presented him with Dave Droga’s arrival as London

creative director - and Kean’s own move to regional creative director

for Asia - as a fait accompli rather than consulting him over it clearly

compounds this view. But Kean insists the news came as something of a


’Roberts didn’t know me,’ he says. ’He and Bob Isherwood were making the

decisions and I just thought, well, I don’t give a fuck what they


Kean says that when Roberts dropped his bombshell, he knew straight away

that he would leave Saatchis. Yet he stayed on until a Territorial Army

campaign that he was working on had been finished, saying he did not

want to leave people in the lurch. You can’t help feeling that this was

the time to throw the toys out of the pram but, then again, you get the

impression that Kean has always been more interested in the work than

the politics.

Patrick Collister, executive creative director at Ogilvy & Mather, sums

it up when he says: ’One of the problems of being creative director is

that you are at the umbrella level overseeing everything but at the same

time you want to create. You crave the closed door and the brief on your

desk. The new job offers Adam the chance to start with something small

and make it grow.’

And for W&K it provides the chance to make a fresh start in London with

a new management team. The agency has already attracted some talented

people, but many have since left, frustrated by W&K’s apparent inability

to move on from being the London outpost of a successful US agency. It

is to be hoped that the influence of its Portland parent does not stifle

the new W&K London.


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