THINK BIG Wieden Kennedy, the ad agency that brought you Air Jordan, the Miller High Life man, and those wacky SportsCenter commercials, has been elevating clients to pop-culture-icon status for 23 years. Behind much of this are creative director Jelly Helm and W12, the in-house ad school at W K’s home office in Portland, Oregon.
Act stupid. “Our philosophy is to come in ignorant every day. The idea of retaining ignorance is sort of counterintuitive, but it subverts a lot of [problems] that come from absolute mastery. If you think you know the answer better than somebody else does, you become closed to being fresh,” Helm says.
Shut up. “The first thing we do when we meet with clients is listen. We try to figure out what their problems are. Then we come back with questions, not solutions. We write these out and put them on the wall. And then we circle the ones that we think are interesting. More often than not, the questions hold the answer.”
Always say yes. “What I’ve learned from improvisation is to let go of outcome and just say yes to whatever the situation is. If you say an idea is bad, you’re creating conflict—you’re breaking an improv rule. You want an energy flow that moves you forward, as opposed to a creative stasis.”
Chase talent. “Find people who make you better. It’s best to be the least talented person in the room. It’s reciprocal. It challenges you to keep up.”
Be fearless. “Do anything, say anything. In the words of our president, Dan Wieden, ‘You’re not useful to me until you’ve made three momentous mistakes.’ He knows that if you try not to make mistakes, you miss out on the value of learning from them.”