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Wieden + Kennedy Business Information, Profile, and History

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224 NW 13th Avenue
Portland, Oregon 97209
U.S.A.

Company Perspectives:

Wieden + Kennedy is an independent, creatively led advertising agency that exists to create strong and provocative relationships between g ood 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 arou nd the globe. That is why we are still run by creative people. That i s also why we offer a diversity of talent unequaled by any other agen cy.

History of Wieden + Kennedy

Wieden + Kennedy (W + K) is one of the largest independent advertisin g 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 ar e located in Portland, New York, Amsterdam, London, Shanghai, and Tok yo. 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 age ncy, Wieden + Kennedy, on April 1, 1982. Wieden was the son of F.D. " Duke" Wieden, the former chairman of the Gerber agency in Portland, O regon, 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, ea rning a degree in journalism in 1967. After experimenting briefly wit h 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 Ch icago. Like Wieden, Kennedy had a dislike for status quo advertising. He held a degree in fine art from the University of Colorado at Boul der and had "spent the '60s not telling anyone what [he] did for a li ving," according to a 1992 Advertising Age article. The pair b egan to work together at McCann on the NIKE account in 1980. Two year s later, they left to create their own ad agency, taking with them th eir one client at McCann, NIKE. With a card table, borrowed typewrite r, and pay phone, they opened Wieden + Kennedy in the basement of a P ortland labor union hall.

Portland-based NIKE was still small and relatively unknown in the ear ly 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 in jecting irreverent humor, sophisticated film techniques, and hip cult ural references into their ads for the shoe manufacturer. The firm pu t Lou Reed in a Honda commercial, used the Beatles' "Revolution" as a n insurrectionist version of a jingle for NIKE in 1987, and introduce d a cinematic, storytelling approach to print and television ads. Alt hough NIKE moved most of its account to California-based Chiat/Day in 1983 in anticipation of the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, it returne d 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 t he most acclaimed creative agencies in the United States. Its offices filled the former GranTree Rental Furniture building in downtown Por tland. Wieden explained the company's unique approach to advertising in a 1990 Advertising Age article: "Philosophically, it's abou t having no formula for creativity--[W]e're not trained in the classi cal 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 tha t interested in American advertising." In fact, Wieden and Kennedy re ferred 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 creativ e aspects of their business. From 1988 onward, the team did not produ ce many ads, but instead oversaw the work of staffers. For Wieden, th e 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 A dvertising Age. The change was harder for Kennedy. "It's been ext remely 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 growt h 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 wit h 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 Phi ladelphia community, however, which was more staid than that of Portl and. When in 1993 Subaru fired the agency, W + K closed its Philadelp hia office. Earlier that same year, having experienced total losses o f about $11 million in billings during a six-month period, it imp osed austerity measures on upper management and instituted layoffs fo r 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 sig nificant change at W + K in the day-to-day functions of the $200 million business. "The way we worked," as Wieden explained of his rel ationship with Kennedy in Advertising Age in 1993, "was very m uch like an old married couple. Instead of a division of labor, we we re 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 a gency. Prior to 1992, fewer than a dozen people had left Wieden + Ken nedy. But that changed in the second half of the 1990s; the agency be gan to experience turnover similar to that of other advertising agenc ies, with some staffers moving on to establish ad agencies of their o wn. In part this change was the inevitable result of the company's gr owth, but former staffers also described it as the product of W + K's cohesive, family-like culture. As Wieden himself admitted to Adve rtising Age in 1992, "It's pretty well known when you talk to hea dhunters that we don't pay very well and we border on being a sweatsh op." The company held on tightly to its workers and communicated a se nse 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 c lients. In 1996, the agency added additional Microsoft products and M iller Genuine Draft to its roster and billings rose to $624 milli on. Billings rose again to $877 million in 1997, despite the fact that NIKE took more of its business to Goodby, Silverstein & Par tners in San Francisco that year. In 1998, Miller jumped ship, and NI KE 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 handl ed 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 fro m undertaking new business efforts. As a result, W + K was perceived as being standoffish in the London advertising community, and the off ice struggled with high turnover. It went through three managing dire ctors and four creative directors during its first two and a half yea rs.

At the same time, positive change was brewing at home in the late 199 0s. Part of Wieden's vision for W + K was to create a company headqua rters that would generate creativity and nurture the staff's artistry . Although the GranTree Rental Furniture building in downtown Portlan d 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 e nough of an innovative atmosphere to suit Wieden. Thus in 2000, with close to $780 million in billings, W + K moved its headquarters t o a new space in Portland's trendy Pearl District, home to art galler ies, restaurants, shops, and upscale condos. Here Wieden purchased a 22,000-square-foot cold-storage space and began to realize his goal o f building "a creative institution, a synergistic hub where business, art, and community [would thrive]," as he explained in a press relea se in 2001.

With the help of architects, Wieden cut out the building's core, crea ting a naturally lit, open workspace with a six-story atrium where ev eryone in the building could meet. The new headquarters also housed a screening room, a 275-seat amphitheater, a penthouse floor with a ca fé and reference library, and a bona fide gymnasium. Instead o f an awards case in the front lobby, a totem pole and a wall covered with photos of employees shot by local photographer Peter Stone greet ed visitors. The building also housed the Portland Institute for Cont emporary Art, whose mission was to advance emerging ideas in new art in Portland and in the international community and local artists-in-r esidence so that staffers might draw inspiration from close contact w ith 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 cr eative outlet--so they won't leave and go off to Hollywood," explaine d Wieden in an Inc.com magazine article in 2004. To that end, the company also encouraged and sometimes funded nonadvertising creat ive endeavors by staff, such as films, books, and stage plays.

From its new headquarters, W + K also began to pursue its goal of ach ieving "branded content"--advertising melded with other forms of ente rtainment, 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 pr ojects 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 lis ts 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. Bot h 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). No twithstanding the cutbacks, the company continued its experiments wit h branded content. New projects involved pairing clients with new med ia. For example, in 2001, NIKE worked with Radical Media to produce a documentary called Road to Paris, which followed Lance Armstr ong on the Tour de France. Also in 2001, W + K debuted two-minute ver sions of NIKE commercials that were, in effect, music videos. The Tok yo 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 Lon don, Amsterdam, and Tokyo. W + K also had U.S. offices in New York an d Portland. The company had billings of about $875 million and a staff of 523. Within W + K, a new generation of managers was being re cruited as Wieden began to look toward retirement. Questions arose ab out the style of work W + K would produce without either Wieden or Ke nnedy, but one thing was certain: The contribution these two men had made to the field of advertising would continue to influence practiti oners and agencies for years to come.

Chronology

  • Key Dates:
  • 1982: Dan Wieden and David Kennedy open Wieden + Kennedy.
  • 1988: The company's "Just Do It" campaign for NIKE wins intern ational publicity.
  • 1991: Advertising Age chooses W + K as its Agency of th e Year.
  • 1992: W + K opens an office in Amsterdam.
  • 1994: W + K opens an office in Tokyo.
  • 1995: David Kennedy retires.
  • 1998: The company opens an office in London.
  • 2000: W + K moves its headquarters to a new space in Portland.
  • 2004: The company opens an office in Shanghai.
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