Wieden & Kennedy's John Jay has a new gig. The agency partner is leaving his post as global executive creative director to launch a co-venture with the independent shop W&K Garage, a multidisciplinary creative company that will focus on creating and investing in innovative experiences, content and technology.
While the agency has already launched ventures that tap into the innovation space, including the Portland Incubator Experiment, a collaboration with tech entrepreneurs, and W+K Tomorrow, which taps creative opportunities in emerging technologies, what sets Garage apart is Mr. Jay himself."John is Garage," said W&K co-founder Dan Wieden. "If you're a client and want a personal relationship with someone, not some cast of characters to play with your cast of characters, this is where to go. It's an elevated proposition. That's why it's so intriguing. He's extraordinarily connected at the top levels of the industry, so I think you'll see a lot of magical things when you don't have to work through agency or client bureaucracy. I'm really excited and kind of wistful in a way because I realize that he's now going to be obsessed and focused on this project and we won't see each other as much."
"The conversations I have with CEOs, different companies, those allow us into the boardroom a lot earlier," said Mr. Jay. "The product-development part, the concept for the new product or service -- that part is way before the marketing."
Although he couldn't disclose any names, Mr. Jay said that he's currently in talks with a number of clients, none of whom is currently working with Wieden & Kennedy. He is also not ready to disclose the name of his first hire but did say that he is a designer and programmer hailing from Asia -- "a geek with taste, with a strong relationship to the arts. Like me, he did not come from this industry." Mr. Jay remains a W&K partner but the agency says there will be a soon-to-be-named successor to the global ECD role.
W&K Garage currently has a temporary shop within the W&K, Portland, office but will move to a dedicated space whose architecture will live up to its name. It will also have a New York salon space, where Mr. Jay will host a series of creative speakers.
The new venture is as much a part of the agency's desire to play in all kinds of creative spaces as it is a move to keep its talent inspired and excited about the work -- in this case, a partner who's been at the agency since 1993. As global ECD, Mr. Jay has helped to oversee the agency's global work with Wieden as well as its expansion into Tokyo and Asia. In his new role, he gets to get back into the act of making stuff.
"One interesting conversation Dan and I have had is about constantly challenging me, how best I can give back to this agency and affect change," said Jay. "One of the things I enjoyed in Japan was the freedom of running an organization and having the ability to be a true creative director and not a managing or ceremonial creative director. Obviously I believe very much in the craft of our industry still. While strategy and technology are important, I say that no great idea can meet its fullest potential without beauty. I think that return to beauty, and the ability to get back to my craft was important, but the ultimate thing was really about answering Dan's brief to me of 'How can we get the best out of you?'"
Mr. Jay has a history of risk-taking when it comes to creative moves. A prime example was his decision to move to Wieden & Kennedy in the first place, in what then seemed a sleepy Oregon town after an already storied career in the fast-paced New York fashion scene as creative director at Bloomingdales. There, among other things, he helped to develop the store's famous logo-less bags featuring changing imagery from various artists. When the agency was planning to open an office in Japan, Mr. Jay offered himself up for the role.
"We have a responsibility to live up to our potential," Mr. Jay said. "Dave [Kennedy] and Dan created a place so the rest of us could live up to that. Combine that with their crazy chaos theory and all kinds of shit can happen. I am not pursuing this because the agency is not creative and stuck in the past. It's quite the opposite."