Wieden+Kennedy Hires a Longtime CMO, Bringing Back Jason White to Lead Portland Office

The indie shop restructures leadership in U.S. offices after new wins and a few losses

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Wieden+Kennedy is a place creatives want to work. The global independent agency has landed some of the top talent in the world, thanks to decades of groundbreaking work for brands including Nike, Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, Samsung and Budweiser. The agency is also known for its culture of creativity, born from its late founders Dan Wieden and David Kennedy, and that wave of creative leadership continues with recent new hires and promotions.

After a few years of changes, including the loss of its founders and the departure of longtime creative lead Colleen DeCourcy—as well as the loss of creative clients including Duracell and TurboTax—Wieden+Kennedy has made some strategic moves to strengthen leadership at its headquarters in Portland and its New York office.

In Portland, Wieden+Kennedy landed a boomerang in Jason White, who will become president. He will lead the office alongside co-chief creative officers Azsa West and Felipe Ribeiro, who comes north to Portland from the W+K São Paulo office.

In New York, global chief creative officer Karl Lieberman has appointed new CCO leadership in creative partners Brandon Henderson and Marques Gartrell, both rising from executive creative director to lead the office with New York president Jiah Choi.

The changes have been made to form a three-person dynamic at each office, which is roughly how Lieberman and now global CEO Neal Arthur ran the New York office when they were ecd and managing director, respectively. They were looking for people who had the right chemistry, drive and resilience to do the jobs.

“We have to make sure that we’ve got people leading these offices that get the place and continue to protect what’s great about it and change what’s not, and continue to evolve upon what Wieden+Kennedy is and how we can still be a great creative company in a changing world,” Lieberman told Adweek.

The new talent will continue to lead the wide client base of Wieden+Kennedy, including new wins like Epic Games and Google Consumer Apps in New York and Eli Lilly, MLB and Allstate in Portland.

A boomerang with brand experience

White spent over eight years with Wieden+Kennedy as an account manager and director for Nike, as well as being the managing director at the Shanghai office. He then went brand side, working for Apple, Beats by Dre, cannabis company Curaleaf, MTV Entertainment and most recently Fanatics, where he was CMO for Fanatics Betting and Gaming.

That client-side experience made him an attractive re-hire for the agency, where he can use his brand skills to both bring in new business and better manage the agency’s many clients based in the Portland office.

“Part of me never left Wieden. It’s been a part of my narrative for longer than I even knew. I wanted to make Nike ads when I was 12 years old. And what I didn’t know is that meant I wanted to be at Wieden+Kennedy,” White told Adweek.

White spent the last near decade away from the agency and got to see the rapid change in how clients sell their businesses and technology, but he kept coming back to the power of creativity and the need for brands to understand who they are and push their messaging through all the channels and funnels available to them.

“No one does it better than Wieden, and no one has a better ability to help a brand understand who they are and to create a motion around that meaning and then present it to the customer with so much creativity,” said White.

White will start his position in October. Until then, ecd Susan Hoffman, one of the first employees at Wieden+Kennedy, will help with the transitions in Portland.

“We’re not just trying to bring in advertising talent, we’re trying to find the type of people who define what the future of this business is. The soulfulness Jason has from growing up here, combined with the experience he has growing world class brands, is what excites me most. Hiring Jason signals that we’re trying to define how modern brands are built and show up in the world,” Arthur told Adweek.

A shift in the client landscape

While Wieden+Kennedy has lost a few clients, including Duracell and Fisher Price, it has also gained many, including Allstate, Ancestry and Calzedonia Group. The loss of TurboTax resulted in several layoffs in Portland, though the Duracell loss did not result in any staffing changes.

Lieberman said that, while there have been losses, new business gains have helped make up for those, and there are other yet-to-be-announced wins on the way this year.

In addition, since taking top global leadership posts in 2020, Arthur and Lieberman have diversified W+K’s global creative leadership group from 23% non-white to 41% non-white, and female representation has tripled within the group.

White said that having diversity in the client roster is a good thing for Wieden+Kennedy.

“It’s transferable knowledge that you can take from one industry to the other … a problem that you solve on Visa may reveal something that you solve on Nike, or may reveal something that you’ve solved on some other business or some other category,” said White.

He sees the chance to do more with the current client roster, building and expanding relationships, and from there he sees the agency finding new clients that want to drive the emotions of their customer and push the limits of creativity.

Solidified creative leadership

White will have help in West and Ribeiro. West is another recent boomerang, returning to W+K from Anomaly Berlin. She will be joined by Ribeiro, who recently headed up the Brazilian office, as a co-CCO team.

White worked briefly with West in Shanghai, but he said the three have talked about their shared vision for the Portland office and are aligned on bringing success to the main office.

In New York, Choi will be joined by creative partners Henderson and Gartrell, who have been in charge of the McDonald’s account and will now level up to all the clients in the New York office while continuing to work on McDonald’s.

(L-R): Jiah Choi, Brandon Henderson and Marques Gartrell sit in a room full of red and blue chairs
(L-R): Jiah Choi, Brandon Henderson and Marques Gartrell will lead the New York office.Wieden+Kennedy

Henderson has been with Wieden since 2010 and has worked with clients ranging from ESPN to Spotify and Dos Equis, and Lieberman sees him as a leader who is good for morale.

“He understands what creatives need, and what kind environment they need to do great work,” said Lieberman, adding that Henderson and Gartrell have great chemistry to help lead the New York office with Choi.

Henderson and Gartrell are replacing Scott Dungate, who is leaving to explore other options, though the agency is open to his return. Dungate has been with the agency for 17 years and has worked across four offices: London, Shanghai, Tokyo and New York.

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