2 Minutes With ... Kathy Delaney, CCO of Publicis Health and Saatchi & Saatchi Wellness

Her deeply human work, and why being thin skinned is a good thing

Kathy Delaney is global chief creative officer of Publicis Health and Saatchi & Saatchi Wellness. Kathy's passion for creating human-centric stories and overseeing integrated campaigns has influenced clients across industries including Ikea, Tommy Hilfiger, Johnson & Johnson, Revlon, Reebok, Pfizer, Novartis, Starwood Hotels, ConAgra, Kraft and Unilever.​

Prior to her current role, she was CCO of SapientNitro, and before that she spent 13 years at Deutsch, taking on her first CCO role there.

We spent two minutes with Kathy to learn more about her background, her creative inspirations, and recent work she's admired.

Kathy, tell us...

Where you grew up, and where you live now.

I'm a lifelong New Yorker. I was born into an Irish-American family in the Bronx and currently live in Manhattan's East Village.

What you wanted to be when you grew up.

I was lucky to grow up in a household where dreaming was encouraged, and through the years I watched my dad try lots of different things … he owned a floral shop, then a driving school, before finally landing as a private detective—all while being an amazing oil painter on the side! As a result, I learned it was OK to be interested in lots of different things. In different seasons, I've wanted to be a veterinarian, a fine artist, and I even toyed with being a farmer!

How you discovered you were creative.

In many ways I've always been a creative person; writing and sketching have always felt like "coming home" to me, but like my dad, I didn't know how to make a living doing either of those things. Growing up in New York with two working parents, magazines and the television were my babysitters and from a young age I was fascinated by television commercials and print ads. I used to doodle and sketch (really bad) headlines for the sodas and perfumes I'd seen.

Then, my mom took a job as a secretary in the Avon Building downtown and she would come home with stories about art directors and copywriters and all the drama of working in a Manhattan creative department in the 1980s. It was fascinating, and when I learned you could make a living being creative, I knew that was what I wanted.

A person you idolized creatively growing up.

I'll never forget seeing Diane Arbus's black-and-white photographs for the first time. They were raw, melancholy, and captured the essence of the human spirit in a way I'd never experienced. They strongly resonated with me and would ultimately influence how I ended up in health and wellness, where there is a deep and beautifully human ethos to the work we do.

A moment from high school or college that changed your life.

The day I met my now husband at the Xerox machine while working my way through art school.

The first concert you saw, and your favorite band or musician today.

My first concert was a Broadway performance of Liberace, and today my favorite musicians come from Spotify's algorithm—it's always delivering new music that I enjoy.

Your favorite visual artist.

Amedeo Modigliani or Alex Katz.

Your favorite fictional character:

Uma Thurman as "The Bride" in Kill Bill … because what woman hasn't felt like her at some point in her career?

The best book you've read lately:

All The Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr.

Your favorite movie.

Recently, the movie I Care a Lot on Netflix rocked my world, but my all-time favorites are oldies. I'm always up for a viewing of Midnight Cowboy, Sid and Nancy, True Romance, Harold and Maude, or La Strada.

Your favorite Instagram follow:

Alex Guarnaschelli (@guarnaschelli). I love food and believe life is too short to take yourself too seriously. I admire her authenticity and she always has amazing recipes!

How Covid-19 changed your life, personally or professionally.

It's hard to be "always on" in lockdown! I've had to learn a certain kind of focus that I haven't had to before; when you're on camera all the time, it's easy to zone out and also to notice when others are daydreaming, too. I have to remember to get up, take a walk, and change my environment so I can come back and be more fully engaged.

Your favorite creative project you've ever worked on.

My favorite creative project to work on was Zoloft, one of the first prescriptions to launch expressly for depression. It was a privilege to be a part of a team working to remove the stigma around mental illness. We intentionally chose the dot character so people of all walks of life could project themselves into the amorphous figure. My favorite memory from that campaign was when the client shared a letter from a patient whose 7-year-old daughter had seen the TV spot and encouraged her mom to get help.

Zoloft | Dot
A recent creative project you're proud of.

Recently, we worked with an Israeli collective to design the "Paper Prescription Pill Bottle," which won the Art & Design category in Fast Company's "World Changing Ideas Awards" earlier this year. It was a big, generous idea that wasn't simply about selling a product but was designed to engage the healthcare industry in a broader conversation about sustainability. This project was proof that the simplest ideas are often the most profound.

The Prescription Paper Pill Bottle
Someone else's creative project that inspired you years ago.

In 2014, I was named jury president for the inaugural Cannes Lions Health & Wellness awards. Because it was the first year, nobody knew what to submit or where the bar would be, and there was a big debate among the jurors about whether or not we should award a Grand Prix. We ultimately awarded the Grand Prix to "Mother Book," which was a beautiful campaign from Japan that took viewers through 40 weeks of pregnancy across 40 pages. In a digital age, there was something so powerful about holding this gorgeous physical artifact.

Someone else's creative project that you admired lately.

Google's new "Get Back to What You Love" ad encouraging people to get vaccinated brought tears to my eyes!

Your main strength as a creative person.

I was once told by a boss that I was thin skinned, and while he meant it as criticism, I believe it's actually one of my greatest creative strengths. I'm a highly sensitive person and my sensitive nature allows me to empathize in ways others can't. I'm able to get close to the work and create from a more authentic place because I understand and have empathy for the audience. It also makes me a better manager to my team.

Your biggest weakness.

My thin skin! Everything is a double-edged sword, and after decades in this industry, I know my sensitivity is both a strength and a weakness. Thin skin means you feel more deeply and that makes you vulnerable and misunderstood sometimes. But despite those struggles, I truly believe the vulnerability that accompanies thin skin is, in Brené Brown's words, "the birthplace of innovation, creativity, and change"—and I wouldn't trade mine for the world.

One thing that always makes you happy.

Turning off my Outlook notifications and cooking dinner with my husband, Steven, and our fur-babies Sadie and Lola.

One thing that always makes you sad.

The Papyrus font … somebody please make it go away!

What you'd be doing if you weren't in advertising.

I'd be a mixed-media artist, and who knows, I still might be one day! As my dad taught me, it's never too late to make a change.

2 Minutes With is our interview series where we chat with creatives about their backgrounds, creative inspirations, work they admire and more. For more about 2 Minutes With, or to be considered for the series, please get in touch.

Tim Nudd
Tim Nudd was editor in chief of the Clio Awards and editor of Muse by Clio from 2018 to 2023.

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