Year of Wieden

By Yash Egami Posted on Nov 30, 2011

One might think after all the awards, after Best of Show in both the One Show and One Show Interactive and after a string of hits from Old Spice to Levi's to Nike, not to mention an "Agency of the Year" award from Ad Age, that the halls of Portland-based Wieden+Kennedy would be littered with gold.

But ask executive creative director and partner John Jay about it and you'll quickly discover that there are no trophy rooms, no shelves lined with Cannes Lions and no glistening One Show Pencil display cases to be found here.

"Our culture is not about awards," he says matter of fact. "While we are proud to win such accolades, we move on quickly and you will never see awards displayed in our shops around the world."

The reason, according to Jay, is almost Zen: Wieden+Kennedy has become one of the most awarded agencies in the world because of the work that doesn't win awards. He points to Indigo, a start-up airline in India, where the agency helped design the uniforms, food offerings and in-flight magazine, or the launch of Motherland, a magazine on Indian culture and SHOP, a dynamic fashion event and sale in the New York office that showcases the city's most interesting new brands and designers. These are just some of the examples of how the leadership at W+K encourages their satellite offices around the world to create their own innovative projects in the name of fostering creative growth.

"W+K works hard to be a catalyst in culture, to be truly connected to contemporary culture and we use that knowledge to be relevant and timely," says Jay. "Great work always reflects a broader cultural context than simply advertising and marketing, especially when you achieve a deeper emotional connection."

"Yes, we have the clichés of a creative environment—the pool tables, the coffee bars, the deck, the gym…all of those things that used to signal a 'cool' shop, but that is not what matters. What matters is our independence to create our own destiny, the freedom that we need to give to all of our people, our willingness to embrace the abstract and our faith that 'Fail Harder' actually works to our client's and W+K's benefit. Our drive to be multidimensional, multicultural and to create in cultures outside of the West has been so important to our constant evolution. We bring all of our values and principles to our cities around the world while benefiting from the cultural knowledge we learn from them."

That desire to be multidimensional has certainly gotten the attention of clients, many of whom are looking for answers while the economy continues to stagnate. Levi's named W+K its agency of record in 2008; this past year, they won a Silver Pencil for the "Braddock, PA" campaign, where the clothing brand took over a hard-hit factory town and showed perseverance during tough times. When Detroit-based Chrysler asked the Portland agency to create a Super Bowl ad, some wondered whether there would be a too much of a culture clash, but the resulting spot featuring Eminem became one of the top commercials of the game. And the agency's work for Target grew out of a single assignment and now includes lead creative duties. Its most recent "Life's a moving Target" campaign has been a success for both the retailer and the products featured in the ads.

And then of course there is Old Spice, which up until recently was known as an old-fashioned brand. The brilliant Old Spice Response campaign, which involved consumers sending pitchman Isaiah Mustafa messages via Twitter and Facebook and him filming over 130 personalized responses, became an Internet sensation.

Says Jay: "I think there are clients from all different categories who are really looking for that sense of connection to people that's deeper than simply doing some cool ad. Hopefully over time that's what we've been able to prove to people. And we've had the fortune of having really long-term relationships with our clients. When the guys from Chrysler or Target come out to visit us here in Portland, it's a lot of fun and it really is an exchange of culture. But we're very, very fortunate to have some really inspiring clients."

The agency has continued to grow and explore other areas of the world, with recently opened offices in India and Brazil. They, much like the agency's office in Tokyo or Shanghai, act as incubators for creativity and talent that in turn influences the culture back in Portland.

"We will always be tinkering with our culture, it's really, really important," says Jay. "You see all the conferences and so forth, you get a lot of people who talk about that, but I think we spend a lot of time caring about our culture and how our people fit in and how they can help expand it. The Brazil office is so exciting. I can't tell you how exciting India was for all of us to have our global meeting there with the leaders of each office to introduce them to the new members of the family. So every time we add a different culture to our network and family, it just adds a ton of exciting possibilities."

"It's pretty simple—you just want to keep growing creatively and keep expanding your skill set and reach. It's just fun to work with different people around the world."


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