Luke Zhener ’96

Lights… Camera… Advertising? Behind the camera, Luke Zhener ’96 has worked with celebrities like Serena Williams, Abby Wambach, Ryan Lochte, Rob Gronkowski, DeAndre Hopkins, and T-Pain. As an advertising executive, his innovative ideas have reached the homes of millions through companies like Uber, Google, Draft Kings, and more. With an affinity for storytelling, he navigates the intricacies between consumer psychology and creativity, seamlessly fusing two of his greatest passions ––– journalism and television.
Even as a successful advertising executive, creating campaigns was not always the focal point of Zehner’s ambitions. Instead, he thought he would be a sports journalist covering some of the world's biggest athletic stars. While attending EHS, this self-proclaimed “favorite head cheerleader” was heavily influenced by Mr. Fraiser, whom he credits with keeping him on the right path. “I always appreciated that about him,” Zehner reminisced. “He related to me, and when he saw me drifting, he would always steer me in the right direction.”
After receiving his undergraduate degree from St. Lawrence University, Zehner started his career as a high school sports journalist for a local newspaper in Portland, Oregon. “That was originally my career aspiration, but it wasn’t the most lucrative trade in the world,” he said. After moving back to D.C., he worked for a golf magazine which ultimately sparked his interest in advertising.
“I started writing and creating ads for the events I was in charge of, and I gravitated towards that process,” Zehner said, reflecting on those early days. Enthralled with the concept of an advertising career, he traveled around the D.C. area with a make-shift portfolio of his newspaper clippings. “As ridiculous as that sounds now, someone was finally nice enough to take me out to lunch and told me that I needed a real portfolio,” he laughed. “They told me I needed to have an advertising geared portfolio.”
Just two years later, Zehner graduated top of his class from the Miami Ad School in San Francisco, California. “I was almost 30 years old when I went to ad school, and it was the first time I felt like I found my calling,” Zehner recounted. “The creative process is grueling and intense, but it sparked my passion.”
After spending the first ten years of his advertising career with various agencies, Zehner is currently the associate creative director at Rakuten and just completed his third Super Bowl ad that featured Cher. “The coolest part of the job is seeing the idea come to life,” he said. “When I get on set and can bring moments to life and recreate my work, it hits home.”
Zehner’s favorite project remains working with the legendary William Shatner on several Priceline advertisements. “To sit down and write ‘open on William Shatner looking out over the beach’ and then two months later I’m standing on the beach with a monitor looking at William Shatner. It’s pretty cool and hard to get sick of that.”