"Any culture that is living takes on different characteristics and evolves with the circumstances," Wieden adds. "And our offices are a reflection of the ethics and weirdness of the mother ship, but they also are enriched because they operate in very different surroundings and different cultural settings. And that cross-pollination enriches all the rest of the offices, because we move everyone around. It's just damned remarkable, quite honestly."
Under Jay—who, in 1998, became ecd in Tokyo before returning to Portland as partner and ecd of the network—Tokyo developed its own record/DVD label, replete with unique local Toyko pop art and video elements attached to each song.
The European shops use a self-deprecating wit when presenting themselves in the blogosphere. Wieden Amsterdam's blog sports the headline, "Think Global, Act Stupid," and features an ersatz Soviet art icon using rolls of toilet paper as binoculars. The motto: "Wieden + Kennedy Amsterdam: 150 people, 25 nationalities. What could possibly go wrong?"
Its London blog uses the tag, "Embracing failure since 1998." Also, the European shops have things like knitting classes and "thirsty Thursdays" (cocktails, naturally) to keep the internal culture hopping.
Years ago, before the bracing victories of late and global accolades for its Honda work with "Cog" (2003), embracing failure wasn't something to joke about. Take its rough move into London, which Luhr says came as a shock.
"We had early success in Amsterdam," he explains. "Then we go to London ... and we are laughed at in the London press. We made some mistakes with some of our people in that office. It was a very hard market to enter and crack, and we hemorrhaged money for probably five years—so much so that if we were owned by a network, I guarantee they would have said, 'Scratch the London office, guys, it's not going to work.'"
Luhr now considers London an object lesson in independent global-network building. Because the agency makes its own financial decisions, he says, it can remain steadfast. "If we make a decision and consider it a good decision, we will do whatever it takes to make sure we accomplish that goal," he explains. "We refused to give up. We found the right team [cd's Tony Davidson and Kim Papworth, and managing director Neil Christie] and today we have an incredibly strong office."
In fact, after an infamously rocky relationship with Subaru (documented in the book, Where the Suckers Moon), London's standout work on Honda (e.g., "Cog" and "Grrr!") has positioned Wieden as the obvious global adjunct to American Honda Motor's non-international independent, RPA.
In the last few years the agency's international milestones have started running closer together. By 2004, the agency was deriving more than half of its total revenue from its (then-) three foreign offices. Since then, global billings have risen 40 percent, according to Luhr.
With U.S. billings tripling between 2003 and 2006, it became clear that the agency's management structure needed some tweaking. Wieden, Luhr and Jay assumed global roles in 2007 and ceded Portland to local management. Then London led this year's Nokia win. Jay says he expects all the shops to lead one or another charge soon.
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