Close-Up: Why Tait's heading Stateside to transform W&K

The Poke co-founder's challenge is to change the 'traditional' powerhouse into a digital frontrunner.

It's true to say that Iain Tait lives and breathes digital. That's why he's spent the past eight years building Poke into a profitable and creative agency. So when he decided to leave all that behind to join Wieden & Kennedy in Portland as its most senior digital bod, it's also why his first move was to search Google Maps for directions.

Unfortunately, as he bemoaned on his blog crackunit.com, Google couldn't calibrate a route from Poke's home in Shoreditch to the W&K offices on the US's West coast; proof if ever he needed it that this is a big upheaval.

It is, nevertheless, a necessary one if Tait is to achieve his ambitions. Personally, he is seeking an environment conducive to a better family life, while professionally, the role of W&K's global interactive executive creative director is the only opportunity with the gravitas to pull him away from Poke.

"The reason the title is that long is that it's important symbolically to have someone at that level representing the discipline of digital. It's about making sure that it's at the heart of everything that happens at W&K, culturally and in terms of the work," Tait explains.

He will join the global management team of Dan Wieden and John Jay, the executive creative directors, and the chief operating officer, Dave Luhr, to help oversee the integrated output across W&K's seven network offices. Tait is the first addition to that team since its formation in 2006.

W&K has a heritage of creating great TV and print campaigns that are culturally resonant. But, by its own admission, this has had a negative effect on perceptions of its digital capabilities.

Neil Christie, the W&K London managing director, says: "Boards magazine recently said W&K is the undisputed king of old-school creative hotshops. That's the opposite of what we want to be. Although it's terrific we're known for the above-the-line work, we don't think we're moving fast enough to get ahead of the game in interactive."

Instead of "playing catch-up", the network wants to be "ahead of the curve" - not an easy transition, but Tait's appointment marks a commitment to try to achieve it.

That's not to say W&K's digital output has been non-existent; there have been signs of digital recovery recently, especially in Portland, with work such as Nike "chalkbot", the digital activity around the launch of Coraline and the Old Spice "swaggerize" work.

Nevertheless, as Tait admits, these examples have been rather haphazard. He adds: "Up until now, there hasn't been a process to make those things happen. They've happened sporadically and my job is to ensure they happen with more regularity and intention, rather than being brilliant accidents."

To do that, Tait faces significant hurdles, the first of which is recruiting the right talent from what is a diminishing pool of credible and experienced digital people.

He also has his mind set on addressing some difficult questions, such as whether to demolish the art director and copywriter construct at the agency, exactly at what stage technologists should be a part of the process of developing integrated campaigns, and when to begin integrating media and search into creative ideas. These challenges from a young digital upstart are sure to rattle some cages.

Nick Farnhill, a co-founder of Poke, says: "Iain will give them a few challenges to deal with. But he's probably got the most intuitive feel for what is right or wrong creatively - he's hugely insightful when it comes to filtering out good ideas."

With agency experience spanning strategy to creative and new business to production, Tait seems well placed to ensure digital thinking permeates W&K's output.

But even against the background of W&K's commitment to innovation, evidenced by its incubator projects such as Platform (its London ad school) and PIE (Portland's business development scheme), and the creative resurgence in Portland (thanks to its recent Old Spice campaign), it's going to take more than one man to reinvent the network as a digital powerhouse.

"I'd be lying if I said I thought it was going to be easy," Tait says. "Obviously it's much easier to mould an agency of 50 people in the UK, but there are opportunities that become available with scale and with being somewhere where if you conceive of something, you can make it happen."

Let's hope Tait can find his way to Portland so he can start conceiving a digital future to rival W&K's traditional past.

TAIT'S CAREER HIGHS

1996-2000: Strategist at Syzygy London. Joined as junior account manager. Became head of strategy.

2000-2001: Director of product development at First Tuesday, a start-up responsible for developing and delivering online business models. Sold to a venture capital company at the top of the dotcom market.

2001-2010: Co-founded Poke, which employs 65 people in the UK and has a New York office.

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