For Luhr, the network reaped an "enormous benefit from building agencies in the '90s rather than the '60s and '70s. In the '90s, he maintains, clients became more global and "technology came into our lives," allowing the offices to communicate and travel in unprecedented ways.
Corporate attitudes were changing as well. "We did a lot of research before opening Amsterdam," Luhr notes. "[Back then] most clients did not want 120 offices, did not want to pay for 120 offices and, quite frankly, most agencies don't know how to manage 120 offices."
Wieden himself agrees that while building the Wieden culture globally is "very much a creative act, in some ways we are a product of our times. If McCann Erickson hadn't followed Coca-Cola to every country in the world, somebody would have had to come along and do that."
At the global management meeting in India this year, each office was spoiling to share talent with another, says Jay, describing what is for him the most electrifying period in the agency's history. For example, Tim O'Kennedy, one of the industry's original strategic planners, moved from running the Electronic Arts account in Portland to Amsterdam as managing director. And the Portland office is importing interactive talent from China.
"The goal is always to have Wieden talent inside [each international shop]," says Jay, "especially at the beginning." In Shanghai, which opened with no clients and is already working for EA, Starbucks and Nike, the management team hired cd Iris Lo from M&C Saatchi Hong Kong to join creative director Frank Hahn and managing director Kel Hook. Recognizing that the agency needed to catch up on interactive, Renny Gleeson was hired from Carat Fusion as global director of digital strategies, and the Swedish-Argentinian cd Joakim Borgstrom was wrested from his own agency, Double You in Barcelona, Spain to work in Amsterdam.
While it grows, the agency hopes to maintain a "less is more" difference. "In the past, just because a network had 120 offices, it was by no means guaranteeing strategic discipline for those brands," Luhr says. "In fact, having that many offices often helped fracture a brand rather than holding it together."
In the competitive sense, Wieden says the pitch to international clients is as "the independent network. ... And I think the reason we've been able to establish the relationships [we have] and be the lead in many of these markets, if not a global presence, has been the nature of the client/agency relationships. I think ... we will tell it like we see it and not worry about losing margins or watching our profits take a hit or having to suffer the consequences of our conscience. ... We're more concerned with the quality of the work we produce and the quality of the relationships that we can establish."
Now poised to thrive on three continents, Wieden seems well prepared to answer the legendary Jay Chiat question: "How big can we get before we get bad?"
"We were bad when we were small," Wieden says with a laugh. "I'm wondering how big we have to get before we get really good."