Go Inside PPK’s Creative Force: Tom Kenney

Introduction by Phillip Davis, President, Tungsten Branding 

Tom Kenney is one of those creative powerhouses that only comes along once or twice in a career. When I interviewed Tom for an entry-level graphics position at my first ad agency, there was a technically more suited applicant for doing basic ad layouts. Tom, however, had the presence of an artist. When asked why he should be hired while working in an assistant manager position at Kids R US, he paused for a moment and then replied, “Because my soul is dying.” I couldn’t let his soul die, and it didn’t. Tom not only rose to the occasion but consistently pushed the envelope when it came to imaginative solutions to complex marketing challenges. He thought outside the box before there even was a box and came pre-wired with a “What if we…?” approach to even the most mundane of projects. The best hires are ones you know you can’t keep or contain… nor should you. Tom continues to create, inspire, and amaze, and it has been a pleasure to be part of his incredible journey.

Tell us about how PPK started.

PPK was started in January 2004 in a small 800 sq. ft. basement office in St. Petersburg, FL. The three partners all worked at different shops and each had a valuable asset to bring to the table. Paul Daigle was aggressive, bold, and established the swagger of the agency. Kelly Pyper was a media whiz and helped us land several media accounts. Myself, I led all creative for the agency and built an amazing team of artists—many of them are still with us. Today, PPK looks very different than in the past. Paul and Kelly are no longer with the Agency. We are now located in downtown Tampa and we are roughly around 90 employees.

What inspired or motivated you into a career in advertising?

I got into advertising out of necessity. I was literally a starving artist, had a child on the way, and had no health care to speak of. My wife at the time was temping at an Agency called Fahlgren-Benito as a receptionist, and she introduced me to the world of an art director. I thought, I can do that and began applying for jobs with advertising agencies.

What is your work philosophy?

Listen more than you talk and work your ass off. There is no reason you can’t achieve goals. Don’t be afraid to take risks.

Who is or was your greatest mentor?

The owner of the first agency I worked at, Phil Davis. He gave me my first chance in advertising and taught me the ropes.

What is the most difficult challenge you’ve had to overcome?

Learning the political arena. PPK currently has two very large state contracts and working with the Government is really different than working with private sector companies. Accountability is to the State of Florida, not key stakeholders or the board. It’s just a very different world.

What would be your dream assignment?

PPK devotes a considerable amount of our time to working with non-profit, cause-related entities. We have long-lasting relationships with Metropolitan Ministries (a Tampa Bay organization that assists homeless and nearing homeless families), the National Pediatric Cancer Foundation (raises funds for childhood cancer research), and Big Cat Rescue (one of the world’s largest accredited sanctuaries, providing a home for over 100 abandoned, abused and orphaned exotic cats). My dream assignment would be to work in any capacity with the ASPCA.

Who have been some of your favorite people or clients you have worked with?

I loved working with a bunch of people throughout the 14 years that PPK has been in existence; too many to name. But, as for clients, I was very proud of the work we did with Bright House Networks on the “Hello Friend” Campaign. The 6-year relationship was amazing. Even though they were sold to Spectrum Communications, I still stay in touch with the Marketing team. Great people. I’m also very proud of the long-lasting partnerships we have with clients like Tires Plus, The Florida Aquarium, Lego Land, and the National Pediatric Cancer Foundation.

What is one of your favorite pro}ects that you’ve worked on?

Well, I just mentioned it. The Bright House Networks “Hello Friend” Campaign was incredible. We really created a cultural shift in their business and the perception of a “cable company.”

You’ve created a number of campaigns about pediatric cancer and other excellent causes. Do you tend to seek out these clients or do they usually approach you?

Both. I am very proud of that work and those relationships. Giving back to our community is very important to me and PPK. We generally don’t say no to any cause-related business, unless of course, they are a competitor to one of our existing clients.

What are the most important ingredients you require from a client to do successful work?

Trust. We do not do creative for just creative sake. Everything we do has the goal of our clients in mind. I tell clients all the time that they know more about their business than I do, so bring it on. Talk to us. We want to hear your voice and then trust that we will come back to you with something great.

What is your greatest professional achievement?

Keeping this Agency going for 14 years, even through some really difficult times. I’m very proud to see our employees fulfilling their goals and growing professionally.

What is the greatest satisfaction you get from your work?

Providing a workplace that is fun, creative, and a place you WANT to come to work and do something great.

What part of your work do you find most demanding?

Business development. I am really never satisfied. I constantly want to be pitching new business. I get really antsy when things are stagnate. I need constant activity.

What professional goals do you still have for yourself?

We recently broke off our production arm into its own company called Contender Production Studios, Inc. I’d really like to see that business grow and develop clients outside of PPK.

What advice would you have for students starting out today?

Take every opportunity and make the most out of it. Don’t be lazy.

What interests do you have outside of your work?

No one would ever expect it, but my wife and I own a farm. We spend weekends tending to our cows and the property. And yes, I have a tractor. It’s super badass.

What do you value most?

In this order—my wife, my children, and PPK.

Where do you seek inspiration?

Everywhere. But really nothing specific.

How do you define success?

Success changes as you get older. I used to think success was making more money or growing the Agency. But now, I see success as empowering those around me. Helping people do things they have always wanted to do. Someone said, “You won’t be remembered for what you did in life, but rather what you did for others.” I probably misquoted that, but you get the idea.

Where do you see yourself in the future?

Hopefully, still in this chair. I have no intentions of going anywhere. We still have some things to prove.

Tom Kenney was one of three original founders of the Tampa-based, full-service advertising agency PPK, and is now the only remaining partner and sole owner. He began his career as a fine artist and clearly brings a valuable eye for visual aesthetics and compelling conceptual thinking to the table. Today, he is involved in all aspects of the Agency and works closely with the Executive Director of Business Insights on developing new biz and cultivating brands. Under his direction, PPK has grown from seven employees in 2005 to more than 90 employees with several offices around the state. Tom has led PPK in the creation of numerous award-winning campaigns for local, regional, and national clients, such as The Florida Lottery, Bright House Networks, Circle K, Tires Plus, Pirelli Tyres, Sweetbay Supermarket, Tampa Bay Rays, Big Boy Restaurants, GTE Financial, and Touch Vodka. He has also taken great pride in helping several nonprofits gain tremendous exposure and creative acclaim, including Metropolitan Ministries, the National Pediatric Cancer Foundation, Big Cat Rescue, ASPCA, Jailhouse Fire Hot Sauce, and the Florida Aquarium. You can learn more about Tom and PPK at uniteppk.com.

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Author: Graphis