WALL OF FAME AND FORTUNE: After taking Wieden & Kennedy by storm, a copywriter looks to conquer New York.

By Eleftheria Parpis

When Stacy Wall was 7 years old, his father, a marketing executive at Hanes Hosiery, approved a Long Haymes Carr ad remembered as a classic moment in advertising history. In the famous ’70s spot, Joe Namath demonstrated how panty hose can make anybody’s legs look great–by donning a pair himself.

More than 20 years later, Wall is creating his own share of memorable ad moments, which also star famous athletes. Only his are slightly different. Well, very different.

Consider: Chicago Bulls forward Scottie Pippen steps out of a skyscraper window and walks along a flagpole.

Standing high above the city street, the basketball star is surrounded by pigeons. This surreal scene is crosscut with footage of Pippen on the court, images of a cheetah racing through a field of grass and documentary footage of jazz pianist Thelonious Monk playing ‘Monk’s Dream.’ A collection of seemingly unrelated visuals adds richness to the eclectic portrait of Pippen that Wall is painting.

‘The images are intentionally odd,’ says Wall, who is cutting two new spots in Nike’s lyrical ‘Breadth’ campaign. ‘I’ve found that the commercials people pay attention to are the ones that make you lean forward in your seat.’ Believe it. As mystifying as they are arresting, the ‘Breadth’ spots are part bizarre art film, part music video. The tempo fluctuates, at times gentle and poetic, at others, aggressive and rebellious. Each Nike ad is a tribute to the athlete and his game, a symbol of the distinct creative work that is Wieden & Kennedy’s signature statement.

A five-year veteran of Wieden, Wall has cast Dennis Hopper as a madcap referee, George ‘The Iceman’ Gervin as an apron-clad host of a cooking show in the ‘The Iceman Cooketh’ and a sassy puppet named Lil’ Penny as the alter ego to Orlando Magic guard Anfernee ‘Penny’ Hardaway. The 30-year-old copywriter who cut his creative teeth writing ads for British Knights at then Deutsch/ Dworin and Pizza Hut at BBDO has returned to New York from Portland to accept a new role: creative director of Wieden & Kennedy, New York.

Quietly operating as a media buying office for the last two years, W&K’s Manhattan operation will soon serve as the agency’s full-service East Coast arm. A core creative, account management and production team is currently being assembled. Tom Blessington, who was account director on the agency’s domestic Nike business, will serve as managing director of the agency; Ernest Lupinacci, a senior copywriter, will work on the Nike and ESPN accounts; and Peter Cline, head of broadcast production at the agency’s Amsterdam office, will lead its production efforts.

‘New York is a new part of our growth,’ says Susan

Hoffman, creative director and partner at W&K, adding that the creative stewardship of the agency is in good hands with Wall. ‘Stacy is inventive in his thinking,’ she notes, pointing to his work on Lil’ Penny and Nike’s gritty portrayal of the fierce agony of Olympics competition in a brutally graphic spot titled ‘Search & Destroy.’ ‘He likes to break the rules.’

Director Joe Pytka, who has directed a number of Wall’s projects, says, ‘Stacy is one of the many unique writers the agency has had, starting with Jim Riswold.’

In fact, Wall’s 1992 Black Star faux documentary beer campaign won him top honors at The One Show and the British D&AD awards. The campaign was an homage to Woody Allen’s Zelig, one of Wall’s favorite films. Growing up, he says he loved listening to the albums of Jonathan Winters, Bill Cosby and Steve Martin–and their skewered, off-kilter humor has influenced his work. ‘If you look at Wall’s work, it’s not done by the advertising book,’ muses Hoffman, ‘but the ads are very relevant.’

Of course, Wieden’s talent pool is a hot commodity and many senior staffers have been recruited by other agencies. In addition, W&K needs more staffers in both the Portland and New York offices to accommodate the demands of increased business and new clients. As such, Wieden’s mission in New York is two-fold: The primary reason, explains agency executives, is to attract new creative talent and to provide a new springboard for U.S. growth. ‘The New York office will take on small clients and grow with them,’ says Wall. ‘It’s a better way to grow the agency than to continue to grow Portland.’

Fifteen-year-old Wieden & Kennedy was founded on Nike, a client that billed less than $1 million during the shop’s first year in business. The agency that branded itself as much as Nike with ‘Just Do It’ has in recent years snagged plum assignments from Microsoft, Coca-Cola and, most recently, Miller Brewing Co. W&K now bills more than $500 million in the U.S. and $625 worldwide. In Portland, the agency staffs 350 employees, approximately 50 of whom are members of the creative department. Operating a full-service agency in Amsterdam and offices around the world, W&K is at a critical stage in its development.

Given the agency’s growth, the Manhattan move seems a natural one. ‘It’s a good time for us to do this,’ says Dave Luhr, director of client services and partner at W&K. ‘We want to attract great clients to the organization.’ And despite his unorthodox, no-holes-barred creative style, Wall says the agency is going to take it slowly. ‘We don’t want to come in and say, ‘We’re Wieden & Kennedy and we’re going to take over the city’ because we’re not,’ says Wall. ‘We have no bold plans. We’re going to let the agency grow naturally.’

Initial plans call for the shop to staff art director partners for both Wall and Lupinacci. Wall says he hopes for someone with a strong graphic design background who can set the visual direction for the New York office much as creative director John Jay did for Portland in 1993. ‘Now that they are cloning sheep, maybe we could clone John Jay,’ laughs Wall.

Wall will still work on Nike, and he’ll continue to work with his stepbrother, Dan Wieden. Wall’s mother married Wieden’s father a few years ago, effectively keeping the business all in the family. And despite Wall’s father’s appreciation for unusual ad concepts, he warned his son against joining the creative side of the business.

‘Go into advertising, just make sure you stay on the account side,’ were his father’s instructions.

‘My father likes the commercials I’ve done, but I don’t think he would in a million years have approved them,’ says Wall. ‘My father insisted that ‘the creatives are all weirdos,’ ‘ says the son who, happy with his Nike work, longs for additional challenges. ‘Maybe I can be the crispy-cream doughnut guy, too,’ he grins.

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