November 1, 2019

W+K Chairman Rallies Independent Agencies at WPI Global Summit

Written By: Angie Pascale

Independence is Everything.

We believe in this statement whole-heartedly. It guides everything we do from hiring staff and enhancing service offering to collaborating with partners and establishing new offices. 

And while we don’t need anyone to tell us about the importance of independence, it’s always encouraging to hear it echoed by one of the most recognized, culturally-influential and fiercely-independent agencies in the world. 

David Luhr, Chairman of Wieden+Kennedy, was the keynote speaker at our Global Summit in Singapore last month, where he emphasized the power of independence, rallied around the opportunities for indies today, and shared tips for keeping the indie spirit alive and thriving. 

He also wasn’t shy in pointing out the missteps of large holding companies. “Their investment in creativity is hollow," David argued. "They’re chasing every other fad but creativity.” This race for frivolous trends and short-term profitability, rather than creativity and culture, will be their demise.  

“I hate to be harsh, but someone else's tragedy can be our opportunity. As independent agencies, we can excel during this time of transition, and emerge even stronger, with less competition, increase our authority, higher margins, and stronger reputations.”

Zulu Alpha Kilotaking on the subject of holding companies and what happens to an agency after being sold. “Billy’s Lemonade,” tells the story of a young boy, who sells his thriving lemonade stand to a holding company from New York.

To ensure the indie spirit remains alive and thriving, David offered six tips:

1. Excel at Creativity 

“We live by the motto: ‘The work comes first.’” 

Don’t make work to win awards. Don’t make work to get famous. Don’t make work to make a profit. Focus on creativity and creative talent to make great work that gets results for the client, as W+K did with KFC, helping the once-tired brand become relevant again, reach a younger audience, and most importantly, break out of a ten-year sales slump.

2. Grow a Culture, Not Just an Agency 

“Our goal was to create a culture that’s so weird, so wild, so damn sticky, that it hurt your very soul to leave.” 

David shared how they keep talent at W+K by taking care of them, not only with paychecks, bonuses and wine-on-tap in the office. Make sure they have a great client list to work on, because that’s what they really want. 

David went on to say that cultures can’t be concepted. They need to be a part of your DNA through a point of view, rituals, traditions, and consistency.

3. Find Great Client Partners

“Growing a client list takes great discipline and courage.” 

No matter how much you need the new business, you need to know when to walk away--be proud and fearless enough to walk away--and wait for the right clients. It’s difficult to truly do good work for bad clients, and bad clients often result in lost talent. 

4. Implant your Brands into Popular Culture 

“Big budgets no longer penetrate. But big creative always penetrates.”

To reach millions of viewers today, your budget doesn’t need to be much more than the cost of production. By weaving a client brand into pop culture, consumers will share, like, comment--essentially do our work for us! If (and it’s a big IF) it starts with great creative. 

Remember Bud Light’s “Dilly Dilly” campaign? Of course you do! That campaign would never have been so successful without social media. 

5. Dream Big

“You’re either growing in this business, or you’re in decline.”

David believes that too many independent agencies are too satisfied with being small, and this lack of growth can result in loss of great talent. By dreaming big--playing above your weight, reaching out to clients who have no idea who you are--you incite change, motivate staff, and create growth. 

6. Stamina, Taking the Long-Term View 

“If something isn’t working, we can shift and refocus. We aren't immediately told to end it.”

This is the gift of independence. We have the freedom to take a step back, use creative problem solving to make changes, and see things through to the end.

David wrapped his presentation with a simple yet powerful rallying cry: “Creativity and independence must be part of what you do. And if you do that, your future will be really bright.”



Written By: Angie Pascale