Neil Christie and Zaid Al-Asady, from Wieden and Kennedy’s London office talk to Oliver Lindberg about building brands and working across multiple disciplines as well as continents
.net: What distinguishes Wieden and Kennedy from other agencies?
NC: Wieden and Kennedy is the world’s only independent, creatively-driven global agency. We’re not a traditional advertising agency, but a creative company that makes and does a range of things that help build our clients’ brands and our own business. Our key strength is brand-building – finding cultural truths about the product, consumer and business. We specialise in understanding cultural trends. As a result, we’ve helped brands such as Nike, Honda and Nokia resonate on a global scale.
.net: What are the pros and cons of working in such a massive agency?
NC: Dentsu has 17,000 employees. That’s a massive agency. We have around 180 people, which puts us in the middle of the European Commission’s ‘small and medium size enterprise’ band. Some of the pros are that people get the challenge and variety of working across different things, without having to leave the agency to do so. We can handle the lead agency role on some of the world’s biggest and best brands, and we have the stability that comes from a broad spread of client relationships. The cons are that we can’t have everyone working together in one big room, and that it’s harder for new people to get to know who everyone is and what they do. There’s also a tendency for complexity to increase as size increases. Luckily, our simple-mindedness inhibits that tendency.
Nike recognised that, in the UK, five-a-side is played more than any other football. Nike 5 inspired young footballers to turn on their skills for the cameras in a game featuring pro Nike athletes. Working with AKQA, the website became the hub for all activity: the glue between offline engagement, online content and real-life experience
.net: How much collaboration takes place between the other Wieden and Kennedy offices around the world?
NC: Lots. Most of our business these days is international and shared across offices and markets. The Wieden and Kennedy independent network is made up of seven offices: Portland, New York, London, Amsterdam, New Delhi, Shanghai and Tokyo. We have a number of global clients, for which W+K offices collaborate. For example, W+K is Nike’s lead agency worldwide. All offices except New Delhi work on the Nike business, both developing local campaigns for their home market and leading regional and global initiatives in partnerships with other offices.
W+K London is the global lead and strategic agency for Nokia. We collaborate with all the other offices apart from Tokyo and our work for Nokia runs everywhere in the world except Japan. We also hold the Coca-Cola business worldwide, brands including Coca-Cola, Diet Coke, Coke Zero and Nestea, and the network works as one agency on global projects.
Finally, W+K is responsible for Honda’s UK business, for pan-European advertising, model launches and environmental initiatives. London has also worked with Honda Japan on regional campaigns for Asia. W+K London collaborates with W+K Amsterdam for European and Middle East work.
Beyond the shared, common, global clients, offices within the W+K network collaborate in a number of ways. Cross-pollination and job-swapping between agencies is encouraged.
In 2009, W+K Radio launched. It was set up by the Portland office to inspire creativity through provocative conversations, interviews and artistic expressions relating to arts, culture, media and music. The goal is to share an equal amount of programming between each of the seven offices and their communities worldwide. In 2010, we launched our own Yammer site, a tool for internal communication, collaboration and microblogging, a fantastic, secure environment for us to share ideas with each other from the personal, to global level.
To a young audience, their phone isn’t only essential to make calls but to store their lives. If you found someone’s phone and looked through it, you’d gain an intimate insight into who they really are. We created an online 24/7 live feed from three twentysomethings’ mobile phones called somebodyelsesphone.com.The story ran for 10 weeks, fusing scripted content with audience interaction.
.net: What percentage of your work is pure web design or development?
ZA: It’s hard to interpret as a percentage, because most of our work is integrated. And our interactive ideas aren’t limited just to website design. I think that as an agency, we’ve generally progressed beyond the flashy showcase microsite, and moved into an environment where content-based experiences are even more engaging.
.net: As you’re a multi-disciplinary agency, how are teams divided at W+K? For example, do web designers or developers sit with print and TV and work closely together?
ZA: We definitely all work closely together, and in terms of seating, we’re spread out across our two buildings – all the disciplines muddled up together. We all move around every six months or so and hot-desking is encouraged. It’s a very flat structure with teams being assembled on a project-by-project basis, made up of the right people for that particular brief. This isn’t just in terms of skills, but also personality and interests.
.net: So, is it better to be a specialist or an all-rounder who’s good at other disciplines too?
ZA: A little bit of both really. Having a speciality can be really useful once it comes to the execution, but at the very beginning of a project, it helps to be a bit of an all-rounder. It’s a lot easier to crack a brief when everybody’s thinking about the core thoughts and ideas rather than specific media. Sometimes, having a specific speciality can be a hindrance because you can get bogged down in the particular medium.
.net: How do you look after your clients and their brands?
NC: We don’t have a long list of clients – we focus on quality rather than quantity. That means our senior team is directly involved with each of our clients and we have close working relationships with those clients at MD/CEO level, as well as with the day-to-day marketing team.
We only work with clients we like and admire, and those whose brands and business we feel passionate about. In that sense, we take ‘ownership’ very personally.
.net: What do you consider to be Wieden and Kennedy London’s proudest moment so far?
ZA: If forced to choose one proudest moment, we’d have to go for our recent award of ‘Campaign of the Decade’ by Campaign magazine for the Honda Power of Dreams campaign. It’s been probably the most-awarded campaign in the world in the last few years, and has helped to transform the brand image and double the market share for Honda in the UK. We were also awarded ‘Best Digital Campaign’ of 2009 for our ‘Show Your Five’ campaign for Nike.
A campaign for Nokia featuring their music handsets that ran across TV, print, radio and digital. The work features illustrated headphones that represent different genres, celebrating the passion people have for their music. This site allowed users to design their own headphones based on Nokia’s Bluetooth Headset Range. A ‘you design it, we’ll make it’ competition format saw the five winning designs produced into fully functioning headphones.
.net: What effect has the recession had on your office?
NC: The recession has impacted on most of our clients, who have cut expenditure across the board, including marketing. Inevitably this has affected us. We’ve had to work harder and smarter. But as an independent, we’re not subject to pressure from the City or a holding company, so unlike most of our competitors, we’ve not been forced to make rounds of redundancies. And our business is healthy: we’re the fastest-growing agency in the UK top 20, up 46 per cent in the latest published figures. We won six out of seven pitches in 2009. We’re coming out of the recession bigger and stronger than when we entered it.
.net: What’s the Platform initiative about?
NC: In September last year, we launched a fully-fledged creative talent hub called Platform. The idea is to draw out the best, undiscovered, creative minds from the worlds of arts, science and technology around the globe. We found people from diverse backgrounds and skillsets, who possess inspirational and curious minds. They work as a collective to solve live business problems, as well as working in isolation on research, creative and product development projects and with local communities around the world to do more good.
At Wieden and Kennedy, we believe that inspiration is the key to learning. With this in mind, we invited the most talented and prominent figures from the arts, science, technology and education communities to become patrons for Platform. They’ve offered lectures, workshops, debates and work swaps, and participate in many different areas of the programme. Patrons include Professor Linda Drew, from the University of the Arts London; Jeremy Ettinghausen, head of digital publishing at Penguin; Sarah Featherstone, an architect; Russell Davies, a global strategist; Deep Kailey, fashion editor at Vogue India; and Joel Gethin Lewis, an interaction designer and artist.
.net: What are you currently working on?
ZA: We’re all keeping pretty busy working on an integrated campaign for Nike Football, a very exciting project for Nike Running, a couple of new spots for Honda and we’ve just launched a longer-term interactive project for Nokia.
We created a ‘living’ onedotzero identity. Unique generative 3D software harnessed online conversations about onedotzero as ever-changing layers of the distinctive logo. This application was ‘paused’ to create print assets, ‘recorded’ for film assets, and run ‘live’ for the festival launch on London’s Southbank. Built using open source software, the app can now be repurposed by anyone.
.net: What are you looking forward to over the next few months?
ZA: We don’t just expect evolution, we anticipate continuous revolution during 2010 here at W+K. There’s no question that the world in which we work is changing very quickly. We look forward to discovering new platforms and technologies to play with and doing more to move beyond just being a traditional ad agency and into more of a creative company that will make and do a range of things to build our clients’ brands and our own business.