Wieden’s ‘Visit to Nokialand’ Causes Stir

NEW YORK A group briefing of agencies competing to handle creative duties on Nokia’s $120 million global handset business became fodder for one contender’s blog earlier this month, with Wieden + Kennedy London taking note (and snapshots) of everything from the rival agency executives who attended to what they ate and drank.

The item, titled “Visit to Nokialand,” didn’t quote anyone or delve into the substance of the brief but nonetheless described Nokia marketing executive Jo Harlow’s presentation as “comprehensive” and “inspiring.”

Unusual for an agency blog? Yes. Revealing? Not particularly. Worth it? Probably not, said agency executives both inside and outside the review, though Wieden London managing director and blog author Neil Christie defends the post as simply an attempt to provide a window into his agency’s world.

The entry has the feel of a breezy postcard from Finland, mentioning a “tasty lunch of local delicacies like reindeer and cloudberries” and vodka and cranberry cocktails served during “informal drinks.” It would all be relatively innocuous if the subject wasn’t a key meeting in a global review process, which typically isn’t discussed publicly.

Nokia’s handset business currently is split among Grey (U.S., Europe), DDB (Latin America) and Bates (Asia). The review contenders are WPP Group’s Grey, which is partnering with sister shops Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R in London and Bates in Asia, and the London offices of DDB, Wieden, JWT, Mother and Bartle Bogle Hegarty. Work sessions are scheduled this week at Nokia in London and a cut to finalists is expected next month.

“It was a private meeting, closed meeting,” said Bartle Bogle Hegarty COO Simon Sherwood, an attendee identified by Wieden in the entry. “It’s quite surprising. I would not [want] be the agency involved in any kind of public discussion about a pitch process.”

Said JWT worldwide chief creative officer Craig Davis, another attendee named in the item: “I’m a big fan of blogs and the democratization of content.” But you “need to respect stuff that’s sensitive and competitive.”

And while JWT has set up an internal blog for the pitch, posting information publicly is “not something we’d do,” said Davis.

Other agency blogs, such as those put out by independent Butler, Shine, Stern & Partners in Sausalito, Calif., or Interpublic Group’s Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos in Boston look more broadly at marketing trends, providing commentary as a means for generating dialogue online. Recent topics broached on Hill, Holliday’s blog (www.hhcc.com), for example, include Craigslist, Nintendo’s Wii, Apple’s iPhone and avatars.

“We launched our blog over a year ago. We saw pretty clearly the trend lines in how social media was becoming a powerful way to connect with audiences,” said Baba Shetty, evp, director of media and interactive at Hill, Holliday. “We’d be sort of hypocritical if we advised clients on social media and community without actively participating ourselves.”

New-business pitch details have not appeared on the blog, according to Shetty. “People must be able to speak freely and at the same time understand that the same broad rules to blogging that would apply to a dinner conversation. Basic etiquette and common sense are the guidelines,” Shetty added.

While unusual, the Nokia item on Wieden’s blog does fit the mold of most entries, which provide a flavor for what it’s like to work at the London shop. Other items report on construction to expand the office space, a staffer having a baby and a new campaign for The Guardian. The “Welcome to Optimism” blog functions as a promotional tool for prospective employees and potential clients, explained Christie.

While acknowledging that “it’s a little bit of a weird one” and agencies “don’t tend to” blog about client briefings, “it didn’t seem like it was anything that sensitive” because it was a group meeting and the contenders had already been reported in the press, said Christie, who attended the March 2 briefing and posted the item on March 5.

It’s not known how the client reacted to the post. Nokia did not return several calls. When asked if he was trying to flatter Nokia, a client for whom Wieden handles retail store advertising, with his praise for its “inspiring” briefing, Christie replied: “I don’t really think about it like that. It was just kind of recording what’s gone on.”

Agency executives not involved in the pitch, however, questioned the wisdom of blogging about a review.

“You never talk about a pitch” publicly, said Laurie Coots, worldwide chief marketing officer at Omnicom Group’s TBWA. “It makes clients nervous. It spooks them.”

Saatchi & Saatchi New York CEO Mary Baglivo was less dismissive about the idea of blogging about a review, saying it would depend on the circumstances. “It’s interesting because I think it could actually be insightful to learn about how an agency works.” Still, she added: “They’d have to be very, very, very, very disciplined to not allow any client proprietary information to come through.”

Carl Johnson, a partner at independent Anomaly in New York, sees no value in blogging about agency business, particularly as it relates to clients. “To me there’s way more to lose than to gain,” said Johnson. “You ought to be doing something sufficiently interesting to get the same level of interest” from prospective employees. “One thing Wieden + Kennedy is not is bland. So it seems to be pointless. I don’t think they need it.”

—with David Gianatasio