Exporting Portland’s Quirky, One Of W+K’s Greatest Accomplishments

Richard Read of The Oregonian visited London and Amsterdam in pursuit of a story about Wieden+Kennedy’s expanding global network.
He points out that W+K had some trouble recently in Amsterdam, their oldest overseas outpost. But it was nothing Chief Operating Officer, Dave Luhr, couldn’t handle, although Luhr did have to move to The Netherlands for several months.
Read also looks at the London office’s attempt to land Nokia, a global account thought to be worth as much as $300 million. Apparently, Dan Wieden took a look at the concepts in the brainstorming room and freaked, just days before the pitch, because he didn’t see a winning idea.
It turns out there was a winning idea and W+K/London landed the Nokia business.
Read explains the agency’s style and their key point of difference:

The firm’s creatives say conventional ad companies, which they disdain as mere businesses, stick to a linear approach. In the W+K view, planners in such companies run surveys, crank numbers and produce polished reports listing business objectives, target markets and client budgets. They slip briefs under the creatives’ door, behind which advertising alchemy then unfolds.
Wieden+Kennedy, true to its organic Portland roots, prides itself on a more chaotic and democratic “swarm” approach. Planners, creatives and others collaborate to divine and convey what they call a brand’s “voice.” If The Wall goes “off-brief,” so be it.
Participants consider themselves above merely churning out commercials. Team members try to understand the people and philosophy behind a company, they say, translating them into messages that build a relationship between a brand and its customers.
“You can clever your way out of a problem,” says Kim Papworth, executive creative director with Tony Davidson in London. “But you haven’t worked out the problem.”

About David Burn

Co-founder and editor of AdPulp. I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. I worked for seven agencies in five states before launching my own practice in 2009. Today, I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.


  1. Tom Messner says:

    wasn’t wieden from chicago…?
    maybe being part of that diaspora was
    more influential than
    the oregon trail’s terminus

  2. It’s been many years since I read Where the Suckers Moon, but I do recall that Dan’s father worked in advertising in Portland. He also attended the University of Oregon, graduating in 1967. He’s got native Oregonian written all over him.

  3. Think it was David Kennedy that came from Chicago. i believe he worked at the former N.W. Ayer. Do i get the ad nerd prize?

  4. Tom Messner says:

    There were a bunch of guys who worked at various agencies in Chicago–Rink Wells, Ayer, Burvis Churchill or something like that.
    MOst of them went to the West Coast and became very successful, some in TV (laugh in and rosanne writing and producing) and a lot in advertising.
    My old partner Barry Vetere had an agency in chicago.
    It always seemed a city that spawned talent—in comedy and in other fields of entertainment—that went elsewhere to succeed.

  5. zechman vetere. do i get another ad nerd prize?
    you speak the truth tom. i think it’s a product of the niggling suspicion that because they’re from the “second city” they have to make it on a coast to truly test themselves. plus that’s where all the production is.

  6. Tom Messner says:

    There was a third name in Zechman Vetere. Any nerd claiming superior nerdiness would know what it is.
    It wasn’ Charles Comiskey, Don McNeil, Irv Kupcinet or Jim Weller.

  7. Tom Messner says:

    The initals were ZLV, veedub. But that aside, here’s an article I wrote a while back and didn’t publish cause I moved on from adweek:
    Why do ad agencies love using their initials whereas law firms and brokerage houses hold on to the full names of their founders long after their wills are read and their remains buried or disposed of?
    Law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom gets shortened to Skadden or Skadden Arps but never to SASM&F. Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, at worst, is cut to Paul Weiss; clients and adversaries alike would never call them PWRW&G. Frankfurt, Garbus, Klein & Selz could drop the great first amendment lawyer Martin Garbus’s name when he left and add the great advertising attorney Rick Kurnit without futzing around with incomprehensible initials.
    Merrill Lynch, for its part, dropped Pierce, Fenner, and Smith as easily as it once dropped Bean to add Smith. But never never never would it have considered adopting MLPFS.
    If Sullivan, Stouffer, Colwell, and Bayles had practiced law or peddled stocks and bonds instead of running a very successful ad agency, they never would have succumbed to SSC&B. Nor would Batten Barton Durstine and Osborn shorten itself to BBDO (no “and” nor “ampersand”). Oddly, neither of those agencies ever got shortened in conversation to “Sullivan” or “Batten” the way Doyle Dane Bernbach often was “Doyle” or Wells Rich Greene, “Wells.”
    Even two-name agencies went through the alphabet routine: Ammiratti and Puris (A&P), Ally & Gargano (A&G), and Benton & Bowles (B&B). B&B, when it merged with D’Arcy Macius or McManus (who remembers anyway?), became DMB&B.
    Foote Cone Belding, formed when the heads of the three offices of the agency Lord & Thomas took over and changed the name, eventually became FCB. Try to come up with better names than Emerson Foote, Fairfax Cone, and Don Belding to put on the door of an agency. How much more prosaic can one be than FCB? Alright, FDIC, FHA, FICA.
    Kentucky Fried Chicken morphed to KFC, thereby enlarging their franchise to those not particularly partial to the state of Kentucky, the art of frying or the serving of chickens. Plus KFC also has the potential to lure unsuspecting Knights of Columbus members searching for the local K of C.
    International House of Pancakes became IHOP, thereby spreading their constituency beyond breakfast, beyond pancakes, beyond syrup.
    British Petroleum became BP; International Business Machines became IBM; the Generals (Electric, Telephone and Electronics, Motors) became GE, GTE, GM; American Telephone and Telegraph, perhaps the first to alphabetize became, of course, AT&T, telegraphy early becoming passé.
    Telecom has gone through a lot of name changes, and Verizon should be congratulated for not adopting its ticker symbol VZ beyond the stock exchange. Verizon is the result of combining Bell Atlantic, New England Telephone, New York Telephone, MCI, Worldcom and maybe a few I have forgotten.
    Great names such as U.S. Steel abbreviated the United States part a long time ago, but its latest chopping loses any romanticism. Try to imagine during the Havana birthday cake-cutting scene in Godfather II if Hyman Roth had said: “We’re bigger than USX.”
    Maybe it started with radio station call letters. Thus Columbia Broadcasting System became CBS and National Broadcasting Company became NBC. American Broadcasting Company came along much later and slipped right into ABC. TNT, TMC, AMC, HBO, ESPN, ESPN 2, A&E,
    SNY, FSNY, CNBC, MSNBC, CNN, BET, MTV, VH-1, VH-2 followed.
    Even abbreviations have abbreviated. The Minn of our youth became MN; Mass, MA; Calif; CA; and Penn, PA.
    Ad agencies slavishly follow this postal model, opting often for incomprehensibility believing that in their own cases, names are what you make of them. The place I am employed is called Euro RSCG because 15 years ago Eurocom acquired RSCG.
    Recently, a receptionist in the agency asked me what RSCG stood for since she had to say it 50 times a day. “It had been a French advertising agency,” I said, “Rostand, Séguéla, Camus and Gide.”
    She said, “Oh Séguéla. You’re pronouncing it all wrong. He wrote ‘Hollywood Lave Blanc,’ and ‘Force Tranquil’ didn’t he? I took French in school.”
    “When RSCG acquired us, we were called Messner Vetere Berger Carey Schmetterer,” I added.
    “Oh, lucky you did abbreviations or the poor receptionist would have had to say: ‘Good morning, Rostand, Séguéla, Camus, and Gide, Messner Vetere Berger Carey Schmetterer’.”
    “Or the other way around. Putting the Messner part first.”
    “Of course,” she said, “Much better.”
    Since 1986, the agency’s name has changed nine times with no effect. We live in a communications age when brands can be created, re-made, destroyed, re-created, re-named, re-formulated in a day.
    J. Walter Thompson, one of the oldest advertising agencies and one with one simple name that occasionally got clipped in a friendly way to J. Walter, recently and formally changed its name to JWT. The ultimate monogram, one would have thought.
    The management explained that baptizing itself JWT symbolized the turnaround that the agency had recently experienced.
    One of my partners, a buddy of CEO Sir Martin Sorrell of WPP, the parent company of JWT, offered some advice at the time:
    “If they wanted to symbolize a turnaround, why not call it TWJ?”

  8. It’s pretty simple, there’s no movie or television industry here in Chicago. So all the great theater talent–probably the finest in the country–gets lured away by the big bucks. The list is endless. But the great theaters–Steppenwolf, Second City, The Goodman–keep churning out first-rate folks. And if you want to see creativity, check out the restaurant scene. Last year Saveur Magazine named it the best in America.

  9. Thanks for the FYI, TM. I’ve been wondering what RSCG stood for.