PERSPECTIVE: W&K must not try to force its West Coast culture on UK office

Campaign declared the jury was still out on the question of Wieden & Kennedy’s ability to crack the London market when it awarded the agency a measly three points in its Top 300 report this year.

Campaign declared the jury was still out on the question of Wieden

& Kennedy’s ability to crack the London market when it awarded the

agency a measly three points in its Top 300 report this year.



One wonders what that jury will make of this week’s news that Adam Kean

has decided to bale out after only seven frustrating months of trying to

make W&K fly. More importantly, who will it name as the guilty

party?



Publicly, Kean is restricting himself to saying only that things didn’t

work out in the way he had hoped



What’s clear is that, in private, Kean has found W&K’s working methods

too confining and that he has for some time been straining at the short

leash on which he has been forced to run.



Rumours abound of too frequent interference by the agency’s Portland

headquarters in its London outpost and too little appreciation of the

differences between the US and UK adscenes.



Even before Kean’s resignation, the London agency was already showing

signs of stress fractures. Mike Perry’s abortive period as managing

director lasted just six months. But perhaps the most telling departure

was that of Susan Hoffman, Kean’s predecessor, who returned to the US

having failed to transplant W&K’s West Coast creative culture to Great

Titchfield Street.



All this management upheaval would have been easier to explain had the

London start-up been W&K’s first venture into Europe. But it wasn’t. A

short hop across the North Sea, the W&K operation in Amsterdam has

proved a great example of US advertising colonialism.



With its eclectic mixture of staff, W&K in Holland has thrived within

the creative environment of a small European country that has overcome

the disadvantage of having a language that nobody else speaks, by

becoming adept at producing advertising easily capable of crossing

borders.



Dan Wieden, W&K’s founder, has indicated he still has ambitious plans

for his London outpost. But these can’t succeed unless he lets London be

London and allows the reins to be slackened.



Doubtless he will not relish the inevitable comparisons between W&K’s

faltering start in London and that of Fallon McElligott, whose first

full year in the UK has been marked not only by a lack of remote control

but also a promising array of accounts, talent and creative

prestige.



W&K’s dismal pitch conversion rate in London tells its own story. For

Kean, rooted in the old Saatchi & Saatchi ’nothing is impossible’

philosophy, it must have been a disheartening experience.



Let’s hope that whoever is chosen to fill Kean’s chair doesn’t feel

similarly suffocated. Wieden maintains that, being independent, W&K can

afford the luxury of falling on its face and learning from it. In

London, it looks like the time has come for the agency to be picked up,

dusted off and started all over again.



Caroline Marshall is on maternity leave.



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