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
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
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
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
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
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
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