For the Kids: Kevin O’Neill Featured in Graphis Journal #373

“It begins and ends with the kids. They’re just lit up about the advertising business and ready to compete and excel playing a role in that, and feeling that energy every day is inspiring.”

Born in Brooklyn, New York, Kevin O’Neill joined the advertising faculty of Syracuse University’s Newhouse School in 2008. He teaches portfolio and strategy and has led the Newhouse AAF NSAC team to two national and eight Eastern championships. He is a graduate of Princeton University and earned his MA at Hollins College on a fiction-writing fellowship. He has been the senior creative executive at international agency networks and creative boutiques for an array of world-class brands including IBM, Johnson & Johnson, Sara Lee, Hanes, Panasonic, LEGO, AT&T, Lexmark, and Bacardi, with his work being recognized by many major creative award competitions. Not only that, Kevin is an accomplished writer; he was featured in the Wall Street Journal’s “Creative Leaders Series,” a distinction limited to the advertising industry’s most accomplished practitioners. His fiction has appeared in The New Yorker and The Carolina Quarterly, he has been cited in The Best American Short Stories of the Year (published annually by Houghton-Mifflin), and he has published articles in Sports Illustrated, Golf Magazine, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and Scripps-Howard newspapers.

While Kevin is an accomplished artist, writer, and creative leader in his own right, his greatest achievements shine through in his teaching. In his time at Newhouse, O’Neill has led students from multiple disciplines and backgrounds to creative and professional success. Hopefully, with O’Neill’s guidance, Newhouse’s students will someday equal or even surpass their instructor’s acclaim.

Here’s a snippet from Kevin O’Neill’s Interview:

What inspires or motivates you in your career?

It begins and ends with the kids. There isn’t a student body in the country that’s more motivated and engaged than Newhouse students. They work like hell, but their ambition isn’t dour or hard-edged. They’re just lit up about the advertising business and ready to compete and excel. Playing a role in that and feeling that energy every day is inspiring.

Who is or was your greatest mentor?

I’m getting old enough that most of my early mentors are gone, but I’ll cite an incredible quartet. As a young man, I was lucky enough to fall into the orbit of the legendary Lord Geller Federico Einstein. They combined a remarkable array of talents. Federico is in the Art Director’s Hall of Fame, Einstein was an incredibly stylish and persuasive writer, Lord ran the place with incredibly calm command, and Geller was the world’s best account guy. We did brilliant work for IBM, Tiffany, Steinway, and The New Yorker. I spent roughly a decade with them, and it has shaped everything I believe or love about the advertising business.

What is it about design and advertisement that you are most passionate about?

Beyond the craft itself, I work to ensure the students understand that everything they will produce in the business becomes part of a national cultural conversation. It will either uplift that conversation or degrade it. They have an obligation to produce work that’s humane and intelligent, that brightens our lives. The future of the industry and their careers really depend on that.

Read more of Kevin O’Neill’s interview and discover other great artists and educators in Graphis Journal #373, which you can purchase online at

Author: Graphis