Greg Hahn, chief creative officer of BBDO NY, spoke locally about nurturing creativity

Greg Hahn had no plans to be in advertising when he left Indian Hill to go to The Ohio State University. If he’d had his way, he’d have been the next Eddie Van Halen.

He found his way into advertising almost accidentally: By working his way up through the ranks, and scoring advertising hits along the way, Hahn became the chief creative officer of BBDO NY, one of the hottest agencies, if you keep score by the number of creative awards won, says Cincinnati advertising expert Judy Jennings Thompson.

Hahn returned to his hometown to speak about “The Care & Feeding of Creativity” at the American Advertising Federation’s Cincinnati luncheon meeting April 10 at the Radisson in Covington.


“Groundbreaking ideas begin by defying expectation,” says Hahn, who has been involved in some of the most awarded work in advertising over the last 30 years.


He was named one of the “100 Most Creative People in Business” by Fast Company magazine and listed as a “Top 10 Creative Director” by Adweek.

Finding his way into advertising was almost accidental, first interning at Franklin Stoorza in San Diego, and then spending about a decade at Fallon Worldwide in Minneapolis. His first big success was resurrecting “Buddy Lee,” a 50-year-old doll in a very strange six-minute mockumentary, “The Buddy Lee Story.” It got teens talking about Lee jeans for the first time in decades.

Hahn then helped a relatively obscure business-to-business company called EDS break through the clutter with the now-famous herding cats Super Bowl ad in 2000. It was an Emmy-nominated spot that may have been the forerunner to today’s rampant cat memes.

After the September 11 attacks in 2001, he wrote the copy for a full-page ad from United Airlines, one of the airlines whose planes were hijacked. What started out as a rather formal letter from the CEO eventually became, in Hahn’s hands, a spare yet moving reflection on what became important after 9/11. It was published in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. It ended with the words, “On Tuesday, September 11, America was knocked to its knees. On Tuesday, September 11, America got back up again.”

It was at Fallon that Greg first created an ongoing working relationship with David Lubars, who now serves as the global creative director of BBDO. Lubars and Hahn now oversee one of the country’s most prolific award-winning shops. He’s helped create work for FedEx, AT&T, Snickers, Lowes, and Sandy Hook Promise.

“My philosophy in one word is ‘yes,’” Hahn says. “Say ‘yes’ a lot and take on the things that scare you.” Taking assignments that no one wants and staying optimistic about them keeps possibilities open, he continues. “Don’t be your own worst client.”

Read more articles by David Holthaus.

David Holthaus is the managing editor of NKY Thrives, an award-winning journalist, and a Cincinnati native. When not writing or editing, he's likely to be bicycling, hiking, reading, or watching classic movies.