Born in North Carolina and raised on Long Island, Concentric Health Experience’s EVP, executive creative director, Jesse Kates has worked in the healthcare space for more than a decade. He arrived at Concentric after seven years within the FCB Health Network, leading work for brands at all stages of their lifecycle — from blockbuster launches to maximizing the impact of therapies for rare orphan diseases.
Kates’ work has been internationally recognized with appearances in Luerzer’s Archive, multiple Cannes Lions, Clios, LIAs and Global awards, to name a few. When he’s not working, Kates, 36, likes to venture out to sea to dive on World War II shipwrecks up and down the Atlantic coast — his LinkedIn profile features a photo of a wetsuit-clad Kates holding a lobster we assume he harvested by hand. Kates studied film and psychology at Vassar College and screenwriting at Columbia University, and caught up with the ever-inquisitive Chops over the Thanksgiving weekend.
So, what do you do all day?
No two days are the same. My repertoire is usually some combination of Indiana Jones, fireman, street hustler, inventor, poet, accountant, confidant, mentor, world-class salesman, used-car salesman, artist, critic, conflict mediator, screenwriter, philosopher and assistant vice principal.
How would you describe life as a creative to someone who’s not familiar with your job?
Did you ever think you’d be doing this? If not, what did you think you’d do?
When I was a kid, I wanted to be a fighter pilot. Then a veterinarian. For a while I wanted to be a fashion photographer. I briefly entertained medicine and oceanography. I was pretty close to becoming a screenwriter until the writer’s guild went on strike. I’ve always wanted to be a treasure hunter. I still do.
What can you point to in your past and your education that prepared you for this career?
I was a double major in film and psychology at Vassar. I don’t think you could ask for a much better educational background to prepare you for a career as a creative in healthcare advertising. But the truth is that the best preparation for any creative career are the experiences a person has. The kind you can’t plan for. I learned the importance of staying calm under pressure when I was lost inside a shipwreck in 180 feet of water. I experienced the best that human collaboration has to offer while watching a team of doctors and nurses bring my kid into the world. And the worst danger it can pose while I was serving on a jury in an attempted murder trial. One night in the desert in Nevada I saw the most beautiful stars in the sky, which taught me something that’s hard to put my finger on. I can point to those experiences and a hundred more and say I probably wouldn’t be as good at what I do without them. In fact, if a few things had happened a little differently, I would probably be doing something else entirely.
Any quirks in your career path? Odd jobs? Bad jobs? Cool jobs?
Briefly – before I started as a writer at CDM – I worked for this strange independent producer or grifter or something who flew me back and forth between New York and LA a bunch. I read some very bad scripts, met some pretty unsavory people and went to a shady storage facility in West Hollywood a few times. I don’t remember a lot about it. It was definitely…an odd job.
What’s the ideal office set up for you to do your best work? Quiet? Music, and if so, what? Open work space or closed door? Home or office?
I hate working at home, but I have to do it occasionally at night and on the weekends. I generally like open spaces, but that doesn’t always mean an open floor plan. I love the set-up I have now, which is an office without a door. A creative leader needs to be present and transparent. Doors don’t mesh with that.
Name five things that help you do your job better.
My iPhone, my Delta Skyclub membership, the whiteboard in my office, the shoes on my feet and the beard on my face.
Artists have signature looks. Their look is their brand. My brands all get their own look.
What piece of work/project/campaign/creation are you most proud of?
The launch of Emgality. The strategy, the campaigns, and most importantly, the strong results the work yielded.
What’s your favorite color right now?
Who has had the most influence on you as a creative?
My wife, Meghan.
Do you create on your own time? If so, what do you do and why?
I spend the little free time I have creating memories with my 2-year-old daughter, Olive Wolf.
Name a single piece of work, in any medium, that gives you the greatest pleasure.
No Country for Old Men — the movie.
Name a single piece of work, in any medium, that leaves you thinking, I wish I had done that.
“No Country for Old Men” — the book.
Name a single work, in any medium, that leaves you wondering, How the hell did they do that?
No Country for Old Men — the video game. Kidding. The Pyramids! How in the hell…
If you weren’t doing this, what would you be doing?
Trimming my toenails. I’ll get on that as soon as this is done.
How do you recharge?
With one of those little wireless pads.
What’s your happy place?
Diving on a cold, dark shipwreck somewhere in the Northeast
Pastel or oil? Oil
Sound or vision? Vision
Strings or horns? Strings
Clear or cluttered? Cluttered
Morning or night? Night
Design school or liberal arts? Liberal arts