NEWSMAKERS/WIEDEN & KENNEDY UK: US agency to work its Nike magic from UK shores - Mairi Clark discovers what plans Wieden & Kennedy has for its British launch

When Wieden & Kennedy set up in the United States it was a place for its two founders to escape office politics and get on with their jobs.

When Wieden & Kennedy set up in the United States it was a place

for its two founders to escape office politics and get on with their


Soon after, it won the advertising account for the then obscure brand,

Nike, from the little-known US agency, William Cain. Over the next 15

years, it proceeded to win awards worldwide for its creative work for

Nike and took on multi-million dollar-billing clients such as Microsoft

and Coca-Cola.

Wieden & Kennedy has grown into a phenomenon; one of the world’s top

creative agencies and the one most creatives would give their eye-teeth

to work for. It came to a peak in the last decade with a series of Nike

ads, including the much lauded ’good vs evil’ TV spot in 1996.

Following the agency’s success in the US, Dan Wieden, the president and

creative director of Wieden & Kennedy, has for many years expressed a

desire to open a UK office to complement the agency’s office in

Amsterdam. When his agency snatched the pounds 9 million UK Nike account

from TBWA Simons Palmer after a pitch at the tail-end of last year

(Campaign, 28 November 1997) he was given all the encouragement he


Campaign talked to Wieden, Susan Hoffman, his co-creative director in

the US and the UK agency’s creative director, Mike Perry, the company’s

Nike guru and its newly installed managing director, and Chris Riley, a

Brit and W&K’s US planning director, about what is viewed by many

industry figures as the most exciting agency launch in the UK for a long

time. We began by asking the most obvious question:

Would it have happened without Nike?

DW. We probably would have opened an office, but not without some


The best piece of business to launch with is the one we cut our teeth


MP. Nike has always wanted a UK-focused office. Its US campaigns have

often run over here but the UK is very important. It wants to tap into

the creatives in London.

Is it important for W&K to have a famous UK creative director to head

the creative department?

SH. We want a mixture of American and British creatives because we feel

it makes for a well-rounded office. We always make sure the creatives we

assign to work on each project are passionate about what they’re working

on. I’m the American part of the equation. We’re seeing a lot of people

and we’ll make the decision once we’ve seen everyone we want.

MP. We want to work with really interesting people, people with


We’re not limiting it to traditional copywriters and art directors


We’re also looking for people with craft skills like designers and

graphic designers.

The agency is opening with just one account, Nike, which it holds in the

rest of the world. Will W&K be gunning for the Coca-Cola and Microsoft

UK accounts?

MP. Our starting point is to get Nike up and running. We want to work

with like-minded clients as well as ones we have worked with before.

DW. When you’re mesmerised by great brands you have to look long


Long-term client relationships are very valuable to us.

Compared with UK agencies, what is so different about W&K’s philosophy

and working methods?

CR. (who left Horner Collis Kirvan in the UK to work at W&K in Portland,

Oregon, in 1992). It feels very different to me. W&K tends to be very

collaborative. It is more likely to create work that reflects the other

disciplines in the shop. You have a different focus on the work.

SH. When W&K was created, no-one wanted it structured. We wanted to

create work that was more real and more spontaneous.

DW. I suppose our philosophy is ’whatever happens, happens’. The way the

agency functions can seem chaotic, but you have to understand that we

work with an extremely volatile group of people. It will be interesting

when we bring our unbridled structure over here and mix it with some

grown-up seriousness.

It has been rumoured that Jon Matthews, W&K’s joint creative director in

the agency’s Amsterdam office, wants to return to the UK to work. Does

he feature in the plan for the agency’s UK office?

DW. No. He has more than enough on his plate working on Nike over


Will W&K in the UK be affiliated to any specific media company or will

that be decided for each individual client?

MP. Nike’s media will remain with Manning Gottlieb Media. Each client

will be dealt with individually but we want to work with really

interesting people and we are very open to new ideas.

Will Dan Wieden be based in the UK to oversee the office personally for

a percentage of the time?

SH. We wouldn’t give him a job! No, seriously, he will be coming over

occasionally but responsibility for the new agency will fall to Perry

and myself.

Will W&K restrict itself to the nature of the business it pitches for or

will it be an ’anything and everything’ agency?

DW. Historically, we don’t pitch for a lot of business. Our client list

has been growing at the speed of light, but really we are more

interested in cultivating our long-term relationships.

MP. I think in the beginning clients will say ’stick them on the list’

because what we’re doing is so interesting. If a client is unheard of

and is passionate about doing great work, then we’ll talk to them. If

there is an opportunity for us to make something tiny into something

big, then we’re interested. It’s more about the culture of the people


What is W&K’s positioning? Will it end up on pitch-lists with the same

agencies every time?

MP. We’re not under any illusion that we have a unique positioning but

we’re led by the idea that we do great creative work. If we do end up

pitching against the same agencies, I’d like to be on the list with the


DW. It is a bit intimidating to walk into the creative centre and set up

shop. That’s another reason why Nike is a great security blanket. There

has to be a great deal of humility in this.

Nike’s sales in the US are slowing and it has broken a seven-year

relationship to give you the UK account. Does this put you under a lot

of pressure?

DW. This move is not defensive in any way with regard to Nike’s position

in the US. When you have a client that has ridden rough seas, that’s a

good thing. You work together better.

MP. If it puts them under pressure then yes, it puts the agency under