In 2018, Wieden + Kennedy rose to the top of the industry. But there was one thing the agency hadn’t done: peak.
Coming off a year of culture-rattling buzz around its work for Nike, W+K started 2019 in the unenviable position of having to surpass its own successes. Then it did, growing revenue at a pace rarely seen in the agency’s history, expanding both its client roster and existing relationships, and winning what was arguably the most coveted U.S. account in play this year: McDonald’s.
Most of the conversation around W+K has traditionally been about its standout creativity. In 2019, however, the agency had one of the industry’s most compelling business stories, while remaining true to its reputation for oddity, advocacy and the building of successful brands.
The ad was a familiar formula for Nike, but still goosebump-worthy as the global sports brand heralded the achievement of the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team to continue the spirit of “Dream Crazier.”
“Some agencies simply ask about the brief and what they need to deliver,” says Marcel Marcondes, U.S. CMO for Anheuser-Busch. “With Wieden, we talk about the business. We share problems so that we can come up with solutions. Plus, they’re great at what they do in delivering amazing work.”
In recognition of W+K’s growth, creative leadership and restless spirit of innovation, we’ve named it Adweek’s 2019 U.S. Agency of the Year, marking the first time in 12 years that an agency has won the honor twice in a row. (Goodby Silverstein & Partners was the last to do so, in 2006 and 2007.) The wins also followed W+K’s 2017 recognition as Adweek’s Global Agency of the Year, illustrating that the shop is ending the decade with a streak of successes.
Key Wins: Facebook, Fisher-Price, Ford, HBO, HP Omen, Magic Leap, McDonald’s (New York only), Meow Wolf, Participant Media
New Assignments: AB InBev, Coca-Cola, KFC, Samsung
Losses: Anki, Instagram, Lyft, RxBar, Secret, Tinder
Revenue: $242 million (estimated, North America)
Strategic Moves: Hired creative director Christine Gignac in New York; hired John Petty as director of social in New York; promoted audience strategist and On She Goes founder/member Rebecca Russell to director of social content in Portland; promoted longtime W+K strategist Andy Lindblade to head of strategy in Portland; moved Paula Bloodworth from W+K London to W+K Portland to be head of strategy on Nike; moved John Rowe from W+K Tokyo, where he was managing director, back to Portland to be group brand director on Facebook
Independence + relentless focus = a huge year
With the advertising and media landscape changing at a frenetic pace, it’s tough to resist the temptation to constantly change. But this independent sticks to what’s worked for almost four decades.
“It’s uncertain times in the new economy we’re in,” notes Colleen DeCourcy, W+K’s co-president. “There are changes in client structure, supply chain … everything. And people are nervous. But we’ve been leaning in to who we are.”
“[We’ve had] the same formula for success,” adds Tom Blessington, W+K’s co-president. “I joke about a famous Talking Heads lyric, ‘Same as it ever was.’ Tried and true is vastly underrated.”
The duo points to how brands, even with plenty of tools and options at their disposal to market directly to consumers, still find that the work and creativity coming out of the agency can build a business.
“None of these wins are possible without the power of creativity,” says Blessington.
Business with existing clients, like Facebook, KFC, Nike, Procter & Gamble and Samsung, is also on the rise. “They are all leading pillar brands in their categories—and, therefore, our opportunities have grown,” says Karrelle Dixon, managing director at W+K Portland.
KFC has tried all kinds of things to raise eyebrows and garner attention. But creating a dating simulator on Steam featuring a sexy Colonel Sanders was a masterstroke in bringing a beloved brand to gaming.
“Portland will have one of its best financial years in its history and, at the same time, we had one of our best creative years,” adds Jason Bagley, ecd at W+K Portland, referring to both Portland’s and New York’s awards hauls from Cannes, D&AD, the Emmys, The One Show and others.