Wieden + Kennedy
Wieden + Kennedy
224 NW 13th Avenue
Portland, Oregon 97209
Telephone: (503) 937-7000
Fax: (503) 937-8000
Web site: http://www.wk.com
Gross Billings: $875 million (2004 est.)
NAIC: 541810 Advertising Agencies; 541830 Media Buying Agencies; 541850 Display Advertising; 541870 Advertising Material Distribution Services; 541890 Other Services Related to Advertising
Wieden + Kennedy (W + K) is one of the largest independent advertising companies in the world. Best known for the NIKE slogan, "Just Do It," the company's other high-profile clients have included Coca-Cola, ESPN, Subaru, Avon, and America Online. Wieden + Kennedy's offices are located in Portland, New York, Amsterdam, London, Shanghai, and Tokyo. Wieden + Kennedy also has launched "12," a school that offers 13 months of hands-on experience for aspiring advertising professionals.
1982–94: From Relative Obscurity to Wide Acclamation
Dan Wieden and David Kennedy opened their independent advertising agency, Wieden + Kennedy, on April 1, 1982. Wieden was the son of F.D. "Duke" Wieden, the former chairman of the Gerber agency in Portland, Oregon, a man greatly admired for his passion for advertising and for his craft as an ad man. The younger Wieden originally had intended to pursue a career in writing and attended the University of Oregon, earning a degree in journalism in 1967. After experimenting briefly with writing screenplays and short stories, however, he went to work at the McCann-Erickson advertising agency in Portland, Oregon.
Dan Wieden met David Kennedy in 1980 at McCann-Erickson. At the time, Kennedy's career in advertising was more extensive than Wieden's and included having worked for Leo Burnett and Young & Rubicam in Chicago. Like Wieden, Kennedy had a dislike for status quo advertising. He held a degree in fine art from the University of Colorado at Boulder and had "spent the '60s not telling anyone what [he] did for a living," according to a 1992 Advertising Age article. The pair began to work together at McCann on the NIKE account in 1980. Two years later, they left to create their own ad agency, taking with them their one client at McCann, NIKE. With a card table, borrowed typewriter, and pay phone, they opened Wieden + Kennedy in the basement of a Portland labor union hall.
Portland-based NIKE was still small and relatively unknown in the early 1980s. Company lore recounts that when Phil Knight met with Wieden and Kennedy for the first time, he told them, "I hate advertising." Wieden and Kennedy did not design NIKE's trademark "swoosh"; they did break new ground in advertising throughout the 1980s, however, by injecting irreverent humor, sophisticated film techniques, and hip cultural references into their ads for the shoe manufacturer. The firm put Lou Reed in a Honda commercial, used the Beatles' "Revolution" as an insurrectionist version of a jingle for NIKE in 1987, and introduced a cinematic, storytelling approach to print and television ads. Although NIKE moved most of its account to California-based Chiat/Day in 1983 in anticipation of the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, it returned to W + K in 1985. In 1988, Wieden coined the phrase, "Just Do It," which almost instantly won fame for both NIKE and W + K.
By 1990, Wieden + Kennedy had risen from obscurity to become one of the most acclaimed creative agencies in the United States. Its offices filled the former GranTree Rental Furniture building in downtown Portland. Wieden explained the company's unique approach to advertising in a 1990 Advertising Age article: "Philosophically, it's about having no formula for creativity—[W]e're not trained in the classical sense—we're not trained to produce ads. And one of the successes of our agency is to try to find out what it's all about. I'm not that interested in American advertising." In fact, Wieden and Kennedy referred to their work on numerous occasions not as advertising but as communication. The work represented, according to Wieden in the 1990 Advertising Age piece, "… some honest, startling, refreshing communication with someone we're talking to in whatever medium. This is not about one brand or style. It's about a basic respect you have for the people you're talking to."
As the agency grew, Wieden and Kennedy spent less time on the creative aspects of their business. From 1988 onward, the team did not produce many ads, but instead oversaw the work of staffers. For Wieden, the shift was welcome. "I get very excited about other people's work. I don't have a huge need to do hands-on work," he said in 1990 in Advertising Age. The change was harder for Kennedy. "It's been extremely frustrating for me. I'm basically a creative type, but I found myself sitting in more meetings than doing ads," he said in 1993 in Advertising Age.
Growth continued for W + K throughout the early 1990s, but that growth was not steady. In 1991, Advertising Age chose W + K as its Agency of the Year, the same year W + K won a substantial account with Subaru of America and opened an office in Philadelphia to serve its new client. With the addition of Subaru, the agency's billings rose 65 percent to $165 million. W + K did not fit easily into the Philadelphia community, however, which was more staid than that of Portland. When in 1993 Subaru fired the agency, W + K closed its Philadelphia office. Earlier that same year, having experienced total losses of about $11 million in billings during a six-month period, it imposed austerity measures on upper management and instituted layoffs for the first time in its 11-year history, reducing its staff by about 15 people and reducing its Portland staff by 10 percent.
1995–2000: A Period of Tremendous Change
David Kennedy's retirement at the end of 1995 inaugurated another significant change at W + K in the day-to-day functions of the $200 million business. "The way we worked," as Wieden explained of his relationship with Kennedy in Advertising Age in 1993, "was very much like an old married couple. Instead of a division of labor, we were more two bodies with one mind. We'd double up on most chores, such as reviewing creative or dealing with financial issues."
In fact, Kennedy's departure created a ripple effect throughout the agency. Prior to 1992, fewer than a dozen people had left Wieden + Kennedy. But that changed in the second half of the 1990s; the agency began to experience turnover similar to that of other advertising agencies, with some staffers moving on to establish ad agencies of their own. In part this change was the inevitable result of the company's growth, but former staffers also described it as the product of W + K's cohesive, family-like culture. As Wieden himself admitted to Advertising Age in 1992, "It's pretty well known when you talk to headhunters that we don't pay very well and we border on being a sweatshop." The company held on tightly to its workers and communicated a sense of betrayal regarding those who left.
The second half of the 1990s was a time of steady growth for Wieden + Kennedy despite the coming and going of some of its more prominent clients. In 1996, the agency added additional Microsoft products and Miller Genuine Draft to its roster and billings rose to $624 million. Billings rose again to $877 million in 1997, despite the fact that NIKE took more of its business to Goodby, Silverstein & Partners in San Francisco that year. In 1998, Miller jumped ship, and NIKE returned again in 1999. These events led to more layoffs, internal restructuring, and a focus on recruiting new business.
Also in 1998, W + K opened a London office at least in part as a way of winning NIKE's global business. The London office eventually handled NIKE's U.K. work, as well as local projects for Diet Coke, Virgin Interactive, and Flextech cable networks; for the first six months of its existence, however, an agreement with NIKE forbid the office from undertaking new business efforts. As a result, W + K was perceived as being standoffish in the London advertising community, and the office struggled with high turnover. It went through three managing directors and four creative directors during its first two and a half years.
At the same time, positive change was brewing at home in the late 1990s. Part of Wieden's vision for W + K was to create a company headquarters that would generate creativity and nurture the staff's artistry. Although the GranTree Rental Furniture building in downtown Portland had been an adequate home for the company in its early days, it had become a tight fit for the agency's 250 employees and did not have enough of an innovative atmosphere to suit Wieden. Thus in 2000, with close to $780 million in billings, W + K moved its headquarters to a new space in Portland's trendy Pearl District, home to art galleries, restaurants, shops, and upscale condos. Here Wieden purchased a 22,000-square-foot cold-storage space and began to realize his goal of building "a creative institution, a synergistic hub where business, art, and community [would thrive]," as he explained in a press release in 2001.
Wieden + Kennedy is an independent, creatively led advertising agency that exists to create strong and provocative relationships between good companies and their consumers. Wieden + Kennedy was created to be a different type of advertising agency: one where people come to do the best work of their careers. After twenty years we are still true to that mission and dream. That is why we have remained independent, even as large corporations have gobbled up our creative brethren around the globe. That is why we are still run by creative people. That is also why we offer a diversity of talent unequaled by any other agency.
With the help of architects, Wieden cut out the building's core, creating a naturally lit, open workspace with a six-story atrium where everyone in the building could meet. The new headquarters also housed a screening room, a 275-seat amphitheater, a penthouse floor with a café and reference library, and a bona fide gymnasium. Instead of an awards case in the front lobby, a totem pole and a wall covered with photos of employees shot by local photographer Peter Stone greeted visitors. The building also housed the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art, whose mission was to advance emerging ideas in new art in Portland and in the international community and local artists-in-residence so that staffers might draw inspiration from close contact with the arts. "I want people outside to think, 'Geez, that would be a cool place to work.' And I want the people already here to have a creative outlet—so they won't leave and go off to Hollywood," explained Wieden in an Inc.com magazine article in 2004. To that end, the company also encouraged and sometimes funded nonadvertising creative endeavors by staff, such as films, books, and stage plays.
From its new headquarters, W + K also began to pursue its goal of achieving "branded content"—advertising melded with other forms of entertainment, such as music, television, and film—and thereby extended the branded image into areas other than the 30-second television spot. The company created an in-house entertainment division to pursue projects funded by a client or produced by the agency itself. One such project produced by W + K was a book called Cat Spelled Backwards Doesn't Spell God: The Dogs of Portland, which hit bestseller lists overseas.
2000s: Continuing As a Leader and Trendsetter
Bad news came in 2001 when Coca-Cola pulled back much of its business from W + K and Microsoft cut its ties to the company completely. Both of these losses led to layoffs of a significant number of employees at W + K (despite the acquisition of Amazon.com as a new client). Notwithstanding the cutbacks, the company continued its experiments with branded content. New projects involved pairing clients with new media. For example, in 2001, NIKE worked with Radical Media to produce a documentary called Road to Paris, which followed Lance Armstrong on the Tour de France. Also in 2001, W + K debuted two-minute versions of NIKE commercials that were, in effect, music videos. The Tokyo office also began experimenting with music, commissioning original songs and music videos for NIKE advertisements. The success of NIKE music led NIKE and W + K to launch their own record label in the fall of 2003 and to start work on a production called "Ball: The Musical."
In 2004, W + K opened an office in Shanghai. This brought the company's number of overseas offices to four, with additional offices in London, Amsterdam, and Tokyo. W + K also had U.S. offices in New York and Portland. The company had billings of about $875 million and a staff of 523. Within W + K, a new generation of managers was being recruited as Wieden began to look toward retirement. Questions arose about the style of work W + K would produce without either Wieden or Kennedy, but one thing was certain: The contribution these two men had made to the field of advertising would continue to influence practitioners and agencies for years to come.
- Dan Wieden and David Kennedy open Wieden + Kennedy.
- The company's "Just Do It" campaign for NIKE wins international publicity.
- Advertising Age chooses W + K as its Agency of the Year.
- W + K opens an office in Amsterdam.
- W + K opens an office in Tokyo.
- David Kennedy retires.
- The company opens an office in London.
- W + K moves its headquarters to a new space in Portland.
- The company opens an office in Shanghai.
"America's 25 Most Fascinating Entrepreneurs," Inc., April 1, 2004.
Cooper, Ann, "The Wieden Angle," Advertising Age, January 1, 1990, p. 14.
Cuneo, Alice, "Wieden's Horizons; New Architecture; Portland Shop Revamps Office and Future Outlook," Advertising Age, May 15, 2000, p. 20.
Horton, Cleveland, "Wieden & Kennedy: Keeping Ad Game Fresh," Advertising Age, April 13, 1992, p. S3.
――――, "Wieden Minus Kennedy: Life Goes On," Advertising Age, June 7, 1993, p. 4.
LaBarre, Polly, "The Year of Learning Dangerously," FastCompany, December 2004, p. 34.
Lieber, Ron, "Creative Space," FastCompany, January 2001, p. 136.
Vagnoni, Anthony, "Wieden Scions Sprout Up As Execs at Far-Flung Shops," Advertising Age, October 25, 1999, p. 38.
Wentz, Laurel, "London Fog: A Tale of Two Agencies," Advertising Age, December 4, 2000, p. 16.