ECD at Austin agency Preacher speaks to LBB’s Addison Capper about her conscious style of mentoring, why she’s never worked in New York despite growing up on Long Island, and why she always wanted to work in advertising
Despite being from Long Island, close to New York City, Kellyn Blount has spent her career as a creative outside of the Big Apple. She’s spent time at Baldwin& in North Carolina, The Richards Group in Dallas and these days is executive creative director at Austin’s Preacher, where she has overseen work for the likes of Beam Suntory, Simplisafe, Topgolf, ESPN, Crate and Barrel, Samsung, and Gold Peak Iced Tea.
As she has climbed the ranks of the ad industry, Kellyn has developed a pride in mentoring and a particular style to do so, inspired by one her most influential mentors. “Tough, but fair”, the saying goes.
LBB’s Addison Capper caught up with Kellyn to find out more about mentoring, why she’s one of the few who wanted to work in advertising since they were a kid, and how Preacher as an agency in Texas - one of the Roe v Wade trigger states - is supporting staff and dealing with the abhorrent ruling.
LBB > You studied at The Savannah College of Art and Design. Was advertising on your mind at that time? Was it an intention of yours to work in advertising or a bit of an accident?
Kellyn> I’m one of those weird and rare people who knew what they wanted to do in high school. During my upbringing, I had a few influences in my life who were in the printing business. I loved seeing the things they created, and I wanted to be the one making them – it was a sort of celebrity to me. On my 17th birthday, my mom gifted me ‘Advertising Today' by Warren Berger - you know, the one with the giant man's face with a toilet in his mouth?! I was hooked immediately.
LBB> You’ve spent time at agencies in North Carolina, Dallas, and now Austin, which are all cities outside of the stereotypical ‘main’ advertising cities of the US. Is that something that you’ve consciously made happen or just how your career has panned out? Does location even matter these days?
Kellyn> That has been a conscious decision. Growing up on Long Island meant the logical next step in life was the (NY) City. I was very naive. After one NYC internship in the dead of winter, I quickly wised up. Holding companies and a lack of daylight weren’t right for me. Since then, I’ve made a concerted effort to only work for independent agencies that value the creative and their people above anything else. You can find great agencies anywhere these days; you just have to be intentional about it.
LBB> As you’ve risen through the ranks of the industry, mentoring has become something you’re particularly passionate about. What is your approach to this? Do you have somewhat of a style of mentorship or is it more dependent on who you are interacting with?
Kellyn> Most people who work with me say I’m tough but fair. I have a very high bar, and I won't lower it; instead, I do what I can to inspire people to reach it. I feel it’s important to hold people accountable for their talents, mostly because I believe creative people are capable of amazing things. I’ve been lucky to have some great mentors throughout my career who saw something in me and motivated me to get to the creative solution myself, rather than force-feed me the answer. Now that I’m the ECD I get to do the same for others. Luckily Preacher is full of incredibly talented people who impress me every day. It’s my job to stoke those fires within each of them, and they take it from there. For me, little is more fulfilling than watching someone be great knowing you helped them, even just a little.
While I might be a tough leader, it’s also critical to be there for people – if people feel valued and appreciated, the work will be great. Someone recently told me I say ‘thank you’ more than anyone else they’ve worked with. Hearing this made me sad to think leaders think that’s ok. It’s not. I am proud to know that people who work with me feel appreciated.
LBB> You just mentioned that you had great mentors. Is there someone in the industry that you look up to?
Kellyn> Jimmy Bonner, who at the time was a creative director at The Richards Group, has been my most influential mentor over the years. He took an interest in me during my first internship – my book was frankly garbage, and he challenged me to redo it in two weeks so he could justify hiring me to the powers above. I created four new spec campaigns (on very little sleep) and was hired. Over the next six years, I worked alongside him as he pushed me to make great things. At the time, I didn’t realise it, but he provided the type of leadership I needed. He set impossible tasks out in front of me like bread crumbs, from there it was up to me. Luckily I like bread a lot.
LBB> Excuse the absolute vagueness of this statement but it really feels like Preacher has its own culture and vibe - looking at the art gallery, merch, etc. Can you speak a bit about that culture, how you see it, how you cultivate it and how it influences the work?
Kellyn> I feel Preacher is a place for soulful creative thinking with craft at the forefront. We set out to create things that inspire and move people, and when it comes to our brand, we think it's worth crafting just as much as any client project we get to work on. Our culture allows people to experience different facets of creativity, which keeps things interesting. We’re part advertising agency, design firm, gallery, publishers, and image consultants. At the end of the day, we are makers, and we don’t do this for the decks and emails in between. Whatever we can get our hands on to make tends to fit into our culture.
LBB> Preacher is committed to “spreading the good word” - Define “the good word”!
Kellyn> For the advertising side of things, we believe we are experts at finding the source of conviction for a brand within culture and then beautifully crafting it to move people and to make believers. Preacher also publishes a zine titled ‘The Good Word’, where we feature Texas artists who we find compelling. Here it means something slightly different - it’s taking the time to shine a light on the people and things that could’ve easily gone unnoticed and perspectives that could have gone unseen. It's as much a mission statement as it is a declaration of taste.
LBB> Which projects recently that you’ve been involved in are you particularly proud of and why?
Kellyn> The Disney Bundle campaign was a lot of fun. The insight was so clean – hockey players, handmaids, and heroes may be different, but the emotions they make us feel are more similar than fans realise. Additionally, I like how the Bestow work turned out. Life insurance isn’t exactly sexy on the surface, but we found that leaning into guilt rather than fear, love, or protection felt fresh and led to some pretty fun work.
LBB> Texas is one of the 13 states in the US with trigger laws with regards to the overturning of Roe v Wade. This abhorrent ruling is affecting women across the entire USA but more so in places like Texas. Firstly, I want to share my empathy with you from across the pond. How is the agency supporting its staff and how has such a massively grotesque ruling impacted day-to-day life at Preacher?
Kellyn> Preacher believes in a woman’s right to choose and will continue to support paid medical leave without question or inquiry. I am a working mom who was given the freedom to choose when it was right for me to start a family, a freedom I believe all women should have without question. We deeply feel the impact of these attacks on our fundamental human rights and know we must act to fight against them. These things take time, organisation, and clarity — all things we consider ourselves well versed in. As I mentioned earlier, we’re a very productive group of people, so I hope we can make our voices heard appropriately.
The most significant opportunity we have right now is to vote. We encourage (and reimburse) all employees to take paid leave to exercise their right to vote, protest, and advocate for the needs of our most marginalised communities. I hope those reading this in the US make their voices heard at the polls this coming election cycle as well.
LBB> Outside of work, what keeps you happy / relaxed / energised?
Kellyn> I’m a person who needs something to look forward to. This usually manifests in travel. My husband and I have two sons who need to know there is more world out there than our little corner of Austin. Since covid travel restrictions have lifted, it’s more important than ever to get out of our space to experience other cultures and speak to more people.