Every day on his way into the office, Wieden + Kennedy president Dave Luhr walks past a large sign in the lobby of the agency’s Portland, Ore., headquarters. In white cursive letters, carved out as negative space against a backdrop of some 100,000 individually placed clear plastic push pins (and one red one, for levity), it offers a pointed imperative: “Fail Harder.”
It’s an apt articulation of the bare-knuckle ethos that’s helped W+K flourish, over the past 35 years, into a powerful and fiercely independent network producing some of the world’s best ads. That same entrepreneurial spirit has allowed the shop to keep pace with the nimble Silicon Valley zeitgeist, winning the business of big names like Airbnb and Instagram in 2017 to round out an enviable roster that speaks as much to where the world is heading as where it is today.
As the holding companies struggle to weather spending cuts by CPG giants like Unilever and Procter & Gamble, W+K has fortified its position as an uncompromising creative partner with deep strategic capabilities, a lean but reliable international presence, and a keen eye for advertising’s future. These factors make it Adweek’s 2017 Global Agency of the Year.
“It’s been an amazing year,” says Luhr, citing strategic moves like the agency’s expansion of its partnership network in late 2016, the decision to back an independent startup agency for the first time in Austin’s Callen, and solid relationships with both new economy marketers and more traditional players like KFC and Bud Light. “We’re incredibly well poised in China and India,” he adds, “which I’m very excited about because I think that’s where a lot of future growth is going to come from.”
W+K has also won some of the key reviews launched this year by big-name tech brands. One example is Lyft, which hired W+K’s New York office as its lead creative agency this spring. “From the minute we met the team [at W+K], they asked the most profound questions,” says the ride-sharing company’s vp of marketing, Melissa Waters. “They really believe in our mission and [that] we’re here to change the way people move and, ultimately, the way cities are designed.”