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
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
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
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
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.