Agency A-List: Wieden & Kennedy

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Dan Wieden
  • Takes on mega-rivals
  • Billings near $2 billion
  • Big Nokia, Visa wins
  • Coke scores at Bowl
  • Builds digital talent
Nike sent a wakeup call to Wieden & Kennedy in 1997, placing part of its account at Goodby, Silverstein & Partners. The move so galled Dan Wieden that he compared his West Coast rival to an adulterer trying to break up a happy marriage. For Mr. Wieden's shop, the loss wasn't only a psychological blow. Because of Wieden's reliance on Nike revenue, it had the potential to threaten the very roof over the agency's head.

Fast-forward 10 years, and the Wieden-Nike relationship has had to endure some more sleeping around. Nike, grumbling about Wieden's digital capabilities, flirted with other agencies for its running account, a high-profile piece of business that eventually went to Crispin Porter & Bogusky. Then just this month, Nike handed part of its important European soccer account to 72andSunny. This time, however, Mr. Wieden's house isn't at risk. Instead of reeling, the agency has been realizing its global manifest destiny.

In 2007, the Portland, Ore.-based shop snared two of the biggest global creative accounts up for competitive review: the $300 million Nokia global creative and strategic account, and Visa International's World Cup sponsorship, billing an estimated $200 million.

Merry Christmas
For good measure, Wieden also nailed, and as a holiday surprise, last month it was handed the flagship Heineken brand and its Premium Light brand.

Add that to a client list that includes Target, Procter & Gamble Co. and Electronic Arts, and you have a creatively focused micro-network that's winning against the 100-office agency goliaths. Global billings were up 18% to $1.7 billion, not counting Heineken. Plus, Wieden achieved the unthinkable, making Coca-Cola Co. ads among the best in the 2007 Super Bowl.

To accommodate global growth, Wieden placed duties for the Portland office in the hands of Tom Blessington as managing director, with Jelly Helm and Steve Luker sharing creative. That positioned Mr. Wieden, chief creative officer and co-founder; Dave Luhr, global managing director; and John Jay, executive creative director, to focus outside the U.S.

Beyond TV
At the same time, Wieden's pioneering efforts beyond making 30-second spots are moving apace, even as its TV work remains top-notch as evidenced by highly touted work for Coke. Its entertainment unit produced a Nike skateboarding film, and its W+K Tokyo Lab has moved beyond music to DVDs and other mixes.

Under Mr. Jay, an expert on retail marketing, the agency's work for Target includes package design for some back-to-school accoutrements.

Although Wieden executives think the buzz about its interactive capabilities is a matter of its own PR failures, Wieden has taken a number of steps to reformulate the agency, merging broadcast, interactive and entertainment production teams into a single unit. It's also made a flurry of digital hires across the network, key among them Renny Gleeson as global director-digital strategies from Carat and Jordi Martinez from Crispin.

P&G added interactive duties to the Old Spice work handled in Portland. The London office is on track: Jo Harlow, senior VP-market-ing at Nokia Mobile, says one thing that helped the London office secure the win was the use of digital as a "starting point, not an afterthought."
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