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Chuck Kelly: Leader, industry innovator, community contributor

Agency News | March 5, 2019 | 3 min read

An advertising industry game-changer, Chuck Kelly is hanging up his CEO hat after nearly 36 years of leadership at Preston Kelly. 

Chuck’s is the story of a nice guy, just maybe, just this once, finishing first. An unwaveringly positive person, Chuck has never been a power grabbing kind of leader, rather he consistently gave his power away, empowering and fully engaging the people around him. He’s embodied the industry’s current fascination with servant leadership for the past 36 years. And he put his money where his mouth was with the ESOP program he established at his agency over 20 years ago, Chuck has empowered all members of the agency through share of ownership. He feels that true success belongs to the people who make it happen.

Under Chuck’s helm as CEO, Preston Kelly was named by AdAge a Midwest Small Agency of the Year in 2010. Effie Index ranked the agency in the top 100 most effective U.S. ad agencies and the top 20 Independent agencies. And multiple times the agency was selected as a Best Place to Work, because of Chuck’s leadership and way with his people.

Industry Advocate

Chuck was active in the 4As as board member and president of the local chapter, and a vital member of the Purple Forum for 18 years. One of his biggest contributions was on the committee that founded the Minneapolis Creative Summit, which drew some of the top creatives from around the country to discuss creative topics. It created a dialogue about creativity and helped to sustain Minneapolis’ reputation as the nation’s creative soul.

As AdFed board member and president of the local chapter, Chuck was part of the effort to fight on behalf of ad agencies in the state for not putting a sales tax on ad services. He was one of the agency representatives who testified to a legislative tax committee for why it didn’t make good business sense. In the end, the sales tax was extended to include certain services, but not advertising. We then published a book that instructed agencies on what was and wasn’t taxable. It was adopted by agencies throughout Minnesota.

As long time member and chairman of WorldWide Partners (WWP), Chuck was responsible for a global network of small agencies that worked together on behalf of one another. Under Chuck’s guidance, agencies with complimentary competencies could compete for global business. He literally helped save small agencies millions of dollars with WorldWide Partners group buying power for services likes subscription research services. During his chairmanship WWO added agencies in China and in Eastern Europe. This helped provide a more comprehensive network, and it is still functioning today.

Community Contributor

Chuck has always been focused on making a positive impact on people’s lives in his community, with a special commitment to youth. He did so over 14 years as board member of the YMCA of the Twin Cities. And during that time, he commissioned Preston Kelly to invest over $2,000,000 in developing awareness pro bono campaigns to increase membership and awareness of the good they do in our community.

As president of the Normandale Lutheran Church council, Chuck championed social initiatives in the church community. Chuck also served as President of Edina Country Club.

The U of M College of Liberal Arts (CLA) agency advisory board has Chuck serving as a mentor to college-age students who are interested in becoming agency professionals. Chuck speaks to classes, meets with CLA agency members at least twice a year, and also has one-on-meetings with students to discuss what’s required to get that first job in advertising.

Pre- Preston Kelly

Chuck grew up on the account management and strategy side of the business under the tutelage of Ron Anderson at Bozell, and felt obligated to do his part in creating the Minneapolis’ miracle of agency creativity and strategic prowess. He developed his account management skills in Chicago at Foote Cone and Belding then returned to lead the Account Group at Kerker. He became President of Kerker in 1999 and transitioned the agency to Preston Kelly in 2009 as its CEO.

Chuck leaves us with some inspiring life lessons in a post titled, “Eat your veggies: A lifetime lesson on leadership” which you can read here.