Wieden+Kennedy Portland poaches Mother’s top creatives as Eric Baldwin exits
Big changes are coming to Wieden+Kennedy Portland with the arrival of two top creatives from Mother and the departure of longtime employee Eric Baldwin, who has served as the office’s executive creative director since 2017. Ana and Hermeti Balarin, the Brazilian husband-and-wife team who are Mother London's top creatives, will fill the executive creative director roles in Portland, joining Managing Director Jess Monsey in leading the largest of W+K’s eight offices.
The pair, known for their global KFC work, will join W+K in January 2022. They said in a statement: “When we came into advertising there were two agencies we dreamt of working at: Mother London and W+K Portland. We feel extremely lucky to have grown up in one of them and now incredibly honoured to have been invited to help lead the other."
Mother did not comment on replacement plans. Mother founder Robert Saville in a statement said: “Mother has always embraced what’s next and the opportunity that it presents. We look forward to making that happen for our people and our clients.”
The Balarins, who have been at Mother since joining as interns in 2007, became executive creative directors in 2015 and were named as two of the four partners running Mother London’s management team in 2017, alongside Chris Gallery and Katie Mackay-Sinclair.
Baldwin’s next move is unknown, although he is expected to take some time off, according to a person familiar with the matter. He has led the office as the sole executive creative director since his former partner, Jason Bagley, left the agency in the middle of last year; Bagley is now doing freelance work, according to his LinkedIn.
Wieden originally set out months ago to find a new co-executive creative director to work at Baldwin’s side. But during the search W+K Chief Creative Officer Karl Lieberman approached Baldwin about taking a new role as global head of design, which would feed into his design passion, Lieberman said in an interview. “Ultimately he changed his mind and said I’d rather just step away,” Lieberman said. Baldwin did not respond to an emailed request for comment.
W+K used an outside recruiter for the search. Lieberman recalls the original feedback on the Balarins was that they “run their department tight like a family” but “would be next to impossible to get.” Says Lieberman: “Right when I saw that I was like, 'Oh, I’ve got to speak to these two.”
After multiple Zoom meetings, he talked them into joining. “They are incredible creatives. They champion great work,” he says. And “they have come up through the business. I think it’s very important for an ECD to do the work at every level, whether that is writing a script, or running an edit, or helping to build a big platform. They are going to have a perspective on every aspect of the job.”
Baldwin’s legacy at W+K includes stellar Old Spice work, including "The Man Your Man Could Smell Like,” while working as a creative director alongside Bagley from 2006 to 2011. Baldwin and Bagley were reunited as the office’s co-executive creative directors in 2017 and went on to oversee some of the shop’s biggest recent hits, on KFC and Nike, among others. That included the KFC “Colonel” campaign that has seen the brand’s famous founder and mascot resurrected in many forms, as well as Nike’s “You Can’t Stop Us,” a tour de force of craft that spliced together seemingly disparate scenes of athletes as if they were moving in unison.
By securing the Balarins, W+K is seemingly ensuring that its flagship Portland office retains creative firepower at a time when the once-fledgling New York office has risen in stature, overseeing big accounts including Anheuser-Busch InBev, Ford and McDonald’s. The hirings also give W+K some more heft on the KFC U.S. account, which is handled from Portland, along with other marquee clients such as Nike.
Lieberman suggested that the Balarins' KFC experience was not the driving factor in hiring them, but said that “it’s always great to see when creatives have done great work on a shared client.”
Mother’s KFC campaigns in the U.K. have included its “FCK” apology ad after the chain’s U.K. restaurants experienced chicken shortages, which was awarded at Cannes Lions and D&AD. Last year the shop was tapped for a global campaign that leaned into KFC pausing its “finger-lickin’ good” slogan due to the pandemic. Mother pitched the idea to the global team and the work ran in 12 countries. The work was a factor in Mother winning Ad Age’s International Agency of the Year, which was announced earlier this week.
The Balarins have overseen other award-winning creative work for clients including Ikea, Moneysupermarket and Greenpeace. They have served as jurors at top awards including Cannes Lions, and are currently co-presidents of London’s Creative Circle. Ana Balarin was honored as an Ad Age Woman to Watch (now Leading Women) in 2019.
“It’s with a mixture of sadness and admiration that we say goodbye to Ana and Hermeti from the Mother family," said Saville. "They’re testament to the way that Mother nurtures and grows some of our industry’s greatest talent. And we wish them every success in their new role."
The moves continue a wave of changes at W+K. In January, Lieberman took on the agency-wide chief creative officer role after having served as New York executive creative director, while Neal Arthur moved into the chief operating officer role. Both executives work from New York. Colleen DeCourcy, W+K’s president and global chief creative officer, is known to split time between Portland and New York.