Wieden + Kennedy

Independent advertising agency Wieden + Kennedy has eight offices around the world including Portland, Sao Paulo and Shanghai. They work with some of the world’s biggest companies including Nike, Tesco and Heineken. Neil Christie, managing director of the Wieden + Kennedy London answered our questions.

On the questions to ask when starting out on a new project... Do we like and admire the people we might be working with? Is there an opportunity to do the best work of our lives together? Is this a company we are proud to associate with? Do we think the assignment is potentially profitable?

We try to get under the skin of the client’s company and business as much as we can, so as to understand what makes them different. Sometimes we find a different and relevant angle by talking to people who work in areas other than marketing. We find this very valuable for the creative process.

For example, Honda’s chief engine designer Kenichi Nagahiro explained to us that he hated diesel engines. When he was asked to design the company’s first diesel engine, his hatred for conventional diesels motivated him to develop a better engine for Honda. This idea of “positive hate” inspired our team to create the Honda diesel “Grrr” ad that was named best TV ad of the decade by Adweek.

On creative turn-offs... The things that set alarm bells ringing tend to be complex, multi-stakeholder decision processes, pitches where we can’t get access to the decision makers, clients who propose to use research to decide the result of a pitch, people who regularly move their business from agency to agency, people who don't seem proud and passionate about the company they work for.

Why making up is vital... Arguing is fine so long as there’s a shared agenda, but you need to be able to disagree, resolve that disagreement and then move on without resentment.

On sticking to what you know... How collaborative a process should be depends on the client. We like to work collaboratively with the client as part of the team but we don’t expect them to come up with the actual creative ideas any more than they would expect us to engineer cars or formulate soft drinks.

Why money doesn’t always talk... The value of a client to the business of an agency like W+K obviously influences the relationship, but value is measured in many ways other than just the size of the fees: the quality of the work, the enjoyment of the team working on it, the opportunity afforded to learn new things, the feeling that you’re doing something worthwhile, and so on. There’s little value to us in having a big account where the creative output is poor and on which nobody wants to work.