LAS VEGAS “Isn’t this a little premature?” asked Dan Wieden, co-founder and CEO of Wieden + Kennedy, as he accepted a Lifetime Achievement Award yesterday at a luncheon at the 50th anniversary CLIO Awards at The Hard Rock Hotel & Casino here. “Am I supposed to go now?”
The 64-year-old advertising legend celebrated the honor surrounded by his agency partners, among them co-founder David Kennedy, John Jay, Susan Hoffman, Bill Davenport and Dave Luhr.
“It’s a great honor,” said Wieden. “These kinds of awards are nice to receive but quite honestly a lot of what happens to you in life depends on whose canoe you jump in and I jumped into the canoe of a crazy Irishman named David Kennedy.”
When the pair launched the agency in 1982, “I knew noting about advertising,” Wieden said. “I had David Kennedy and a little book called How to Start an Advertising Agency and a client [Nike’s Phil Knight] who hated advertising. Kennedy was the only one who knew shit about this industry. That ignorance is really what helped us and propelled us forward. We didn’t know what the rules were. No one in their right mind would start an international agency in Portland, Ore.”
Wieden credited his success in large part to his colleagues, including the first copywriter he hired, Jim Riswold, who created some of Nike’s most famous campaigns. His work includes Spike and Mike,” “Bo Knows” and Charles Barkley’s “I am not a role model” effort, all of which helped set a new standard for athletic apparel and footwear communications and wormed their way into popular culture.
Wieden also credited COO Luhr for being “the only person who knew anything about business,” he said. “I’ve been blessed.”
The celebratory event began with an introduction by Rick Williams, president of The American Indian College Fund, a longtime agency client who described Wieden as a “remarkable man” who embraces the first law of Native-America people: respect. “When you think about Dan Wieden, you think about respect,” he said. “Everything about him, he does it in a respectful way. He treats people respectfully; he treats the world with respect.”
Williams described his friend as a fierce but generous warrior and peace chief. “He brings peace and calm and goodness to the people around him,” he said.
Kennedy kept his comments brief, saying he’s learned a lot from his partner and American Indian College Fund client, and echoing Wieden/Nike’s iconic tagline: “Just do it.”
Agency employees saluted their founder with a video of a Daniel Boone-inspired sing-along. “From the big ol’ brain on the top of Dan’s head to the heel of his Nike shoe,” they sang. “Daniel was a man, a big ad man.”
Wieden ended his speech with characteristic optimism; he advised those in attendance to never fear failure.
“I love failing,” he said. “What I love about this moment in time in this industry is that no one knows what the right thing to do is right now. You’ve got to experiment. I’m going to let you guys figure out the end of this story.”