The New Leaders
"If it's possible & within budget, we're not interested."
Jason Bagley and Eric Baldwin, have been the ECD’s of Wieden and Kennedy Portland since January of 2017. As creative partners, they are responsible for one of the most iconic advertising campaigns of the last decade - Old Spice’s, "The Man Your Man Could Smell Like." Together, they have worked at W+K for almost a quarter of century.
I spoke to them about what makes Wieden + Kennedy a relentless creative force, how they are leading the Portland office through its own transformation, and the adjustments they have had to make now that they have become the leaders.
The willingness to take risks - a true emotional commitment finding out what's possible.
Self-awareness - an acknowledgment that we don't know everything, and we want to get better, and we're interested in other people's points of views.
A willingness and openness to investing in other people, supported by a remarkable lack of ego actually. You're here for the idea, and you're here to help people make the ideas as great as possible.
"Fearless Creative Leadership" Podcast - Transcript
Episode 14: Eric Baldwin & Jason Bagley
Hello. You're listening to Fearless, where we explore the arts and science of leading creativity, that unpredictable, amorphous and invaluable resource that's critical to every modern business. Each week we talk to leaders of the world's most disruptive companies about how they're jumping into the fire, crossing the chasm, and blowing up the status quo; leaders who have mastered the art of turning the impossible into the profitable. Today, the world needs leaders who can unlock creativity like never before. Fearless leaders. Why shouldn't that be you?
I've decided I'm going to name every episode. This one's called The New Leaders. Before we begin, a piece of housekeeping. So many people have been thoughtful enough to reach out and tell me that they're listening to Fearless, and not only enjoying it, but getting value from the show. Every one of those comments and connections has made my day because I want this show to be useful, I want it to make a difference.
If you can take a moment and rate the show on iTunes, and if you have time leave a review, you'll be in a very real sense adding to the conversation, and I thank you in advance. And now, on with today's show. I tend to see creative leadership through a couple of different dimensions. One of them is time. People change over time, so do companies, and what worked yesterday probably won't tomorrow.
When you become the leader that's even more true, even if we don't always realize it straightaway. It takes time to adjust to leadership, and in today's world, most companies can't give you that much time to figure it out. At its heart, leadership is about giving people the confidence to believe in the future and then convincing them of the journey to get there, which means one of the foundations of successful leaders is consistency.
People want to know that their leaders believe the same things today that they did last week, and if they don't, they want to know why. Over the next day or so, ask people around you whether they think you're clear and consistent in what you want from them and what your vision is for the future. The answers will probably surprise you. Leadership and creativity have a common foundation.
Both need us to be able to open minds and expand possibilities. They both require that we take the collective from "no one can" to "yes, we can." Political authorship noted and exempted for purposes of this conversation. In some businesses, this means unlocking your own personal creative sensibility and adding it to years of training and experience in the operational complexities of a very specific industry. It might mean infusing supply chains and year-long timelines with originality and innovation.
On some days, that can absolutely feel like trying to pull two tectonic plates into alignment. In other cases, creative leadership requires celebrating an environment that revels in the chaos of original thought and behavior, and out of that producing the reliability that is required of any business that is owned by shareholders. Sometimes it requires doing all of that when your only experience of leading an actual business is none at all.
When your success is being based on your capacity to break all the rules and change the expectations, one day you're throwing tea into the harbor, the next you're sitting on a throne with a crown on your head. At that point, the fact that the crown is heavy is not your greatest problem. Your greatest problem is the fact that everyone is staring at you expectantly. The fact is that leading creativity requires a willingness to adore ambiguity. Succeeding requires that you bring a melting pot of capabilities.
You need to have ego and humility, you need self-confidence and self-awareness, you need to have the boldness of the explorer with the caution of the fiscally prudent, you have to be an evangelist and a therapist, you need to be a fire-starter and you absolutely sometimes have to be an extinguisher. In all of that, there's one role that I think the very best leaders have learned to avoid; is that of friend, not hang out socially friends but shared hopes and fears friends.
I'm curious if there are examples out there that would disprove this. Email me if there are or if you disagree; email@example.com. I'm curious whether you think you can lead effectively and be lasting friends with the people that work for you. I've personally never seen it done, but I'm open to being proved wrong.
Now, on to today's show. I'm joined by Jason Bagley and Eric Baldwin. They are the ECDs of Wieden+Kennedy, Portland. As creative partners they were responsible for one of the most iconic advertising campaigns of the last decade; Old Spice is the man your man could smell like. Between them, they have almost 1/4 of a century of experience at Wieden+Kennedy.
I spoke to them about what makes Wieden+Kennedy a relentless creative force, about how they're leading the Portland office through its own transformation, and about the adjustments that they've had to make now that they have become the leaders.
So you guys go by a variety of names. I've heard you described as Bagwin and Bagley and Baldwin. I'm going to just call you for the purposes of today's show Eric and Jason, and I want to first welcome you to Fearless and thank you for being here.
Jason Bagley: Thanks for having us. You forgot Eric's favorite; Bagball.
Eric Baldwin: No, no, no ... Ballbag.
Jason Bagley: Ballbag.
Eric Baldwin: Yeah.
Charles: I'm definitely staying away from that, just so we're clear. I'm trying to get a non-explicit rating on iTunes, so it's important for me to just be relatively family-oriented. You guys have in the last six months taken over as the ECDs of Wieden+Kennedy, Portland, arguably the most creatively respected agency, and certainly one of, and by many people's standards the most critically respected agency of the last 30 years.
Before we jump into that and what that has meant to you, what you discovered about that from your own journey standpoint, I'd love to just get a little bit of your background. Jason I'd start with you. Just tell us a little bit about your journey and how you ended up at Weiden. In your case, not just once but twice in fact.
Jason Bagley: Well, my journey begins in the unassuming suburb of Mesa, Arizona where I grew up. I was the third of eight children and I grew up always writing. I have a giant chest full of journals and grew up as a avid fan of Saturday Night Live, and was always as long as I can remember making stuff, making skits even cassette recorders where my cousins and I would make satirical soap operas, record it like a radio program.
Then when we got video cameras my friends and I would make up these productions and film them, and it's just something I always did. I never, not once ever for one split second did I think that would become a career for me. My dad was a painting contractor and I spent the summers painting houses and I was surrounded by very practical professions.
So my parents had a great sense of humor and they left me free to do whatever I wanted to do, but it just never occurred to me I would make a living doing that. Graduated from BYU, and got a job in the creative metropolis of Salt Lake City, Utah where I worked for about three years and in about a year I started to learn about the great creative agencies at that time, and quickly figured out that was the kinda work I wanted to be doing, not the work that I was doing in Salt Lake.
I knew I would not get that opportunity with the client by work that I was gonna produce in Salt Lake so I started building a spec portfolio at night and on weekends, and probably over the course of a couple of years of nights and weekends developed the type of work that I wanted to do and went through several rounds of portfolios.
When I finally got a portfolio together that I felt that agencies would either hate or love, then I started sending that out, and that's exactly the reaction that I got; was people either hated or loved it. Luckily, one of my heroes, as far as the work they had done; I'd never met the guy, but Jeff Kling, I was a huge fan of the Miller High Life campaign and he had just left Wieden+Kennedy, Portland.
So Dan was looking for a writer to replace Jeff Kling, and he saw this portfolio that I had recently sent and they called me in. I was completely shocked, and they flew me up and I met with Dan, and he offered me the job so I took ... I always say I've never really filled the shoes of my friend, Jeff Kling, but it was an interesting story how that happened because I had been such a big fan of his work. And that's how I got to Wieden+Kennedy.
Charles: Oh, and you stayed for how many years your first time through?
Jason Bagley: 13 years.
Charles: I mean you left to head up Deutsch in LA, right?
Jason Bagley: Yeah, I left 2016 ... I can't remember the month, but I was at Deutsch for a brief ... I think seven months time working there with Pete [inaudible 00:10:11] and Winston and Kim, Getty and Mike and all the great people over there who I'd gotten to know over the course of years, and really liked everybody over there. That was a big reason why I went.
But about six months into it, some of the members of my family were really missing Portland and then it just so happened that Colleen DeCourcy called and started talking to me about this position, so I didn't leave LA because of anything with Deutsch. It's a great place, but I had the opportunity to come back here and partnered back up with my old partner, Mr. Baldwin.
Charles: So Eric, tell us how ... What was your journey to end up as this man's partner?
Eric Baldwin: So I grew up in a little town outside of St. Louis called High Ridge, Missouri that no one's ever heard of, but it's just north of where the movie Winter’s Bone took place. So if you've ever seen that movie, it kinda gives you ... it colors my background. But the interesting thing was my dad was an art director in the 70s and worked for Darcy and a variety of other small shops in St. Louis, so I kinda grew up in the advertising business.
I guess you'd say I liked going to work with him on the weekends and get to play with the highly toxic design markers, and watch him do paste-ups. My dad was a real craftsman, a really amazing illustrator and maker. He pretty much built my parents' house, and taught me how to fix cars and could tear engines apart, so we did a lot of hand work in addition to the art part of it. As I got older, the more ... This is the ironic thing.
The more advertising people that I met, the less I liked advertising because I just wasn't running into the people that I loved that much that worked in advertising. So I initially wanted to be a comic book illustrator, but I realized my limitations as an illustrator and decided to switch over to graphic design, so I went to school for that; a small school in Missouri.
Worked at a few small design shops in St. Louis as a designer for a few years before I was trying to get out to California. I really wanted to move away from the Mid-west and get to California. And I eventually made my way to an agency called Butler, Shine & Stern. Luis Peña at the time was the design director there. He hired me to be a designer.
And what I thought was a design firm, but it turned out it was a design firm within an ad agency, so I kinda Trojan horsed my way back into advertising somehow. And Louis left after I was there for a little while, so I started assuming the role of running the design department, and John and I became friends, and I think he saw that I had ideas in my design so he started tossing me art direction projects.
I was kinda spinning a bunch of plates, doing a bunch of different jobs there; so working as a designer, running the department, working as an art director. Sometimes they would have me step in and look at work on some of their advertising accounts. And then from there ... We worked insane hours at Butler, Shine. It was, I would say an average of 15 hours a day average of at least two weekends a month.
We were constantly there, and I was pretty burned out after a few years so I decided to quit and go freelance. A week after I went to go freelance and I was pivoting back to focus more on design again, a friend of mine who I had worked with at Butler, Shine, Ricardo Viramontes, had gone to the Wieden+Kennedy New York office, and Todd Waterbury was the executive creative director there at the time.
And they needed some help on brand Jordan and my friend Ricardo convinced me. He was like, "They need an art director," and I was like, "I'm not an art director, I'm a designer." But he convinced me to send a portfolio of work and Todd picked up the phone and called me that same day, which I was shocked by. Like, "Why is this guy ... I'm more of a designer than I am an art director."
But he saw that I had ideas in my work, so he brought me in, and after about a month they offered me a job. I felt terrible because at the time my wife and I were wanting to buy a house, and start a family, and get settled down, and New York wasn't the right place. He was asking me what I liked, and I told him, "I like the outdoors," and basically started describing Portland unbeknownst to me.
So he ended up sending me to Susan Hoffman at the Portland office where I freelanced for a few months and started working on Old Spice with Bagley. And then from there we just sort of climbed through the ranks of Wieden+Kennedy, so I've been there for 11 years now.
Jason Bagley: There really aren't many ranks to climb through at Wieden+Kennedy.
Eric Baldwin: That's true, that's true.
Jason Bagley: Incredibly flat. It's a time-consuming but low-altitude climb.
Charles: So each of you have had, 11 years in your case Eric and 13-plus years in your case to look at and understand the agency. As I said earlier, I think the agency is widely regarded as one of the very best, if not the most creative agency in the world over the last 30 years. As you guys look at it from the inside, what do you think has made it that? What does it do? What does it bring? What does it care about that has made it so creatively successful?
Jason Bagley: It's funny because I had a creative that I know, a young [copper 00:16:17] that I know that doesn't work at Wieden, and that recently the Old Spice team, although I was creative director for Old Spice for many years I was not involved with this idea, but they had did this amazing idea called SQUID. And SQUID's an acronym. It's a hilarious acronym that I cannot remember but basically it was on Twitch.
It was the second thing that we did on Twitch with Old Spice, but the people on Twitch could control eight people at a time. Eight different people at a time could control one of the tentacles of the squid, and it was essentially a three-day live video game experience where you got to control the tentacles of the squid and teach the squid how to become a man.
So he had to work at a restaurant, he had to hold down a job, he had to go on a date with a woman, all these things. And it was a huge hit, it was completely crazy, completely insane. And this creative was texting me and saying how jealous he was of this SQUID execution that the Old Spice team had done, and he said, "How do you sell that kinda stuff to clients?"
And I said, "Oh, it's easy. All you have to do is start an agency that puts creativity above everything else, then do that consistently for 35 years, and you'll attract great clients that will at least be open-minded to ideas, and then you just have to work around the clock to come up with insane, nearly impossible ideas that producers aren't sure how to make, and then you just go make them. Simple."
Charles: It sounds very straightforward, I don't know why everybody doesn't do that.
Jason Bagley: But I think at the core is that Dan and Dave started this place, and from the very beginning they decided we're going to remain independent and we're gonna put creativity above everything else, including money, not that they haven't tried to and successfully run a business. That's what you have to do to keep being able to do the cool things that Wieden+Kennedy does, but they made that decision and they, to their credit, remain true to it.
They actually put their money where their mouth is and Dan is not as directly involved in the business as he used to be, but that has been passed on and it's really practiced by the leadership. So there's a lot of other things but that to me is like really being true to those founding ideals, is I think what's made it a special place for creativity.
Charles: And on a day-to-day basis, this place was famously known as the place that you come to do the best work of your life. What are the conditions at which you enable that to happen? How does that come about?
Eric Baldwin: It's interesting, 'cause I think one of the big pieces to that is something that we don't think about that much, and that's the independence of the company. It's set up to be independent forever, a company cannot be sold to a holding company so we have the freedom to be as creative as we want to be. We're not beholden to a dollar.
Our job is to make amazing, creative work, and I think that that independence gives us the freedom to experiment and do things that we don't necessarily know exactly how to do. And I think that's where the magic truly comes from; is that feeling of experimentation, that feeling of, "I don't know if I'm gonna fail or not," is exciting and kinda propels that.
Charles: And that is actively encouraged?
Eric Baldwin: Yes, absolutely. We have another saying that ... A lot of these sayings, if you say them too much they start to lose meaning but "fail harder" is the one that we say a lot. And that's about pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, and pushing yourself into new territory to invent things and do things that have never been done before.
Jason Bagley: And you're encouraged to go ... There's no limitation. There's not a feeling at Wieden of, "Bring us really creative stuff within reason." The goal is to make provocative work, and it's hard to make provocative work. You have to do something truly entertaining, or shocking, or amazing or whatever, and that's freely and actively encouraged.
When I was the creative director on Old Spice, whenever we would give nontraditional briefs, non-television briefs to the creators, we would always say, "If it's possible and within budget we're not interested." And it was kind of a joke because the nontraditional work we had done on Old Spice that had been successful was always things that had never been done before, that producers initially said, "I don't think this is even possible and I don't know how we could afford it."
So that just became the mantra, and it started out as just a funny thing to say but it really was true, that we weren't interested in it if it was something that was easily ... If it was possible and within budget, usually it was too small, too small of an idea, and that really made it fun, like creatives. When they saw that we were serious about that, but it was exciting. They learned there is no idea that I can't bring to my creative directors that they won't take seriously, and if it's good they will try to sell it to the client.
And when creatives believe that, when there's no roof on the place and it's just ... We can bring anything. It will only be on us and that we limited ourselves. If we don't, then it not only becomes more fun to work there, but then the process becomes more fun but you just have better ideas, because there's no limitation.
Eric Baldwin: It's exciting when you work in that way, because what you see happening is creatives almost start to challenge you with ideas like, "There's no way they're going to buy on this thing. There's no way they're going to try to sell this thing." And then the minute that you do bite, and you do sell it, it changes their brains I think. It makes them realize, "I need to bring these surprising ideas. I need to bring these ideas that I think they would never want to touch."
Jason Bagley: And they're like, "Dang, I thought I had crossed the boundary, now I gotta see where the boundary is, I gotta keep pushing it further."
Charles: Those must be so liberating and so empowering, to have that kind of not just support, but challenge to your point that it literally forces you to rewire your own expectations about what is creative, and what is original.
Eric Baldwin: And it removes a filter. You can take away that filter of, "What does my CD want? And what is too far? What is unbuyable? What is irresponsible?" So if you remove those filters, then they can suddenly start being as irresponsible as they want to be, and then it's up to the CDs to find a way to make that work for clients.
Charles: Or to bring ... Obviously, sometimes it is irresponsible or it is not gonna be good for the client and I think sometimes outsiders, people outside of Wieden+Kennedy, have this because they've seen some of the crazy things that get produced, and they may make the assumption that we're not responsible or we're not thinking about the client, and we're just seeing what we can get away with. And that couldn't be further from the truth.
Eric Baldwin: Yeah, we wouldn't have the permission to do half the stuff that we do that's out there to people if it didn't affect sales, if there were no results.
Jason Bagley: It comes from a sincere, deep belief, that the best thing for a client's business is to do work that is compelling, and provocative, and massively entertaining, and engaging. When you believe that, then you're at a greater risk of ... The risk of doing something forgettable, and boring, and that doesn't make people love your brand is a far greater risk than that you maybe went too far, that you're irresponsible or whatever.
So that is our true belief. It's not that we're trying to get away with creativity at the client's expense. It's for the client.
Charles: It's such an interesting reference point I think, and it has surprised me and continues to surprise me for a long time, that more companies aren't willing to take this calculated risk, and Wieden was a calculated risk, right? It might've been rejected out of hand 35 years ago when Dan and Dave started it.
And it could have been rejected at any point including now, but the fact is that creativity and originality that is engaging consumers works and is powerful, and the opposite of that. I've come to realize that the rise in subscription TV services and pay-per-view is actually one of the great indictments against advertising. What people are saying is, "I would rather pay money than watch your work," right?
"It's not enough for me to choose not to watch it. I would pay money not to watch it." And if you think about how many artists in the world, in any medium, have reached that point where people are so turned off by what they do they would rather pay money than have to listen to it or see it, or sit through it, that's a pretty big indictment of the industry actually.
Eric Baldwin: Absolutely.
Jason Bagley: It's also that indictment and that just media reality is seen as an ominous or terrifying thing by the industry. To me, it's incredibly exciting because-
Eric Baldwin: To us Bagley, to us.
Jason Bagley: To us, to Bagwin. Yeah, we talk about this and we are genuinely excited by this because what that means is, brands are going to have no choice but to make stuff that people want to engage with, and that's cool because that means that brands are gonna be more likely to take that risk and to realize, "Hey, we can't keep doing the same status quo; boring, insulting, forgettable marketing and advertising that we've done in the past.
We're gonna have to be engaging. We're gonna have to do things that people want to see," which that places a company like Wieden+Kennedy in the best possible situation for the future. So to us, that's exciting because we don't really want to make work that people have to be forced to consume anyway.
Charles: Which is the most perfect segue, and I thank you for this perfect segue — you should be a producer — into the question of, Wieden has for years been known as the purveyor of extraordinary television advertising. Recently it has expanded, and you guys have been partly responsible for some of the work that the agency has demonstrated.
It's beyond just television, it's multichannel work, but it requires a different kind of expertise, it requires a different approach. Talk to us about how you take a company that is known for television expertise and take it into this modern world of engagement. How do you do work for this for culture today.
Jason Bagley: I would say just traditional advertising media, at home, print, television, but probably most famous for broadcast television, and the whole ... What Dan and Dave always wanted to do was be provocative in culture. They did not like ads as advertising normally exists. And those mediums were the best way for brands to engage with their customers in a provocative way, with broadcast television, print, at home, that kind of thing.
So we still have that same goal, but the way to develop that provocative relationship with customers for brands is no longer primarily broadcast television. It's becoming a smaller and smaller piece of the pie, so in order to continue to do what Wieden has always done, what Baldwin and I talk about is that we need to become the world's most provocative maker of branded everything.
So we're gonna do the same ... Our outcome, what we're trying to do at Wieden+Kennedy has not changed, but how we do it is expanding, and as a creative person that couldn't possibly be more exciting because that just means we still get to do TV. We're not gonna stop trying to be one of the world's best at big, amazing, big-budget television commercials, but now we get to do 100 of 1000 additional things. The world, it's completely wide open now.
Anything that is engaging, or entertaining, or provocative that a brand can do, which includes — and we're already doing these things at the agency — branded video games, music videos, VR, AR, AI, a bunch of other letters. We're doing all that stuff, and it's super fun. Creative people like variety, and they like to try new things, so rather than it being a time of doom and gloom in the advertising industry, it's the most exciting time ever in our opinion. Another thing that we like that David-
Eric Baldwin: Before you jump onto that, I would say that the new space suits our agency really well because we inherently want to do surprising things, and don't want to repeat ourselves and want to be inventive. And at a certain point, 36 to 90, 15, 5, whatever you want to call it, is limiting, and you can't tell all the stories that you want to tell in those spaces, especially people who are blocking the mountain and opting out.
So through VR you can tell deeper stories, that even if you did communicate them on TV wouldn't work because it just wouldn't resonate, so those platforms I think are interesting for people because it just it broadens the canvas.
Jason Bagley: We were talking to our friend and head of strategy, David Terry, about making Wieden+Kennedy the world's most provocative maker of branded everything. I'm gonna get that catchphrase in as many times as I can. And he said something amazing that we really liked, which is, "It's not the end of advertising, it's the beginning of everything," and to us that captures the correct paradigm for the end.
The opposite of what most people seem to be talking about is, "Ad agencies are shrinking and they're not being paid as much and they're not doing all that stuff." To us, the opposite is true. The opportunity for a creative agency, it's the best time in history to be a creatively-led-
Eric Baldwin: There is so much doom and gloom around the industry's going away and is this industry obsolete, but it's just one piece of it, which was the dominant piece for so long, is shrinking. But some of the other opportunities are opening up, so that's exciting to us, to be able to exist in those spaces and surprise people in ways that have never been done before.
Jason Bagley: And if you look at some of our clients that are letting us do this, Nike's been amazing and allowed our teams to do some incredible work beyond the amazing television that they continue to make. Old Spice, they're doing more things outside of television. They continue to make television, it's a very important part of the puzzle, but they make more creative content outside of television by far, than they do on TV. And the same is true of KFC. So that is the direction that things are going, and that we're super excited about.
Charles: This obviously requires a different kind of approach. You're talking about the fact that there are just so many more possibilities. You both talked about a variety of different disciplines and media that are open to you now. Is there a different process as a result?
The traditional advertising process was, the client provided a brief, the strategy person turns it into a strategy, gave it to the creative team, figured out the idea, went to the production team, and it was very, very linear, it was very hierarchical and pretty predictable as a result. Clearly, that doesn't work anymore, right?
Eric Baldwin: Right.
Charles: It's all up for grabs. What have you learned about how to make this kind of work?
Eric Baldwin: We've learned over the course of time as we've done this that there's not a specific way to do anything. There's obviously learnings that you get from things as you go, but it's pretty much wild West. Here you're inventing it, which is again, the exciting part because you're stepping into uncharted territory. And I think the way the output happens is also changing.
So a lot of the work that we've been doing at Wieden recently, that is in these new spaces. It's different shaped work. We're talking VR, robotics, AR, whatever that may be. A lot of those briefs are self-started. We'll see a problem that the client has, that they've been asking us to solve for a long time, or a problem that we just know because we know our clients business well enough, it's a problem that needs to be addressed.
Or a touch point that could be a better touch point for a consumer. So they're self started. So we will approach the client with these ideas and help them find their way through it and find the need for that, and see the [needness 00:37:14] ... If it's answering a problem that they have, it's really hard for them to say no, especially if it's in a way that's gonna get them press. This gonna make them appear different to consumers, and make them more valuable to consumers.
Jason Bagley: Yoda once said, "You must unlearn what you have learned." Baldwin, can you say that in Yoda's ...
Eric Baldwin: Let me try it. "You must unlearn what you have learned."
Jason Bagley: Now it really hits me [crosstalk 00:37:50]
Eric Baldwin: You should be able to do that voice. Frank Oz ...
Jason Bagley: Let's practice after this podcast.
Eric Baldwin: Yeah, 'cause you kinda have a similar Frank Oz-like voice.
Jason Bagley: Another Wieden+Kennedy idiom is, "walking stupid every morning." It's a different way of saying what Yoda said, which is there becomes systems and methods of doing certain kinds of work, and when ... And I think all ad agencies are going through this, where there's ways they have worked for decades and those methods will continue to be relevant when making the kind of work that they've made for the past 20 years, but they are irrelevant to certain types of new creative that ad agencies have the opportunity to make.
We have to have a very healthy disregard for the methods and practices of the past, and just completely throw them out in some cases, where they're just not gonna work. They're gonna be too slow, too expensive, or just simply they're not gonna result in the best possible creative work. So in a way we all have to succeed, we all have to be immigrants in the new world of branded everything, which is to come to this industry with a completely open mind and have completely new ideas of how to do things.
Another thing that's enabled us in the cases when we been able to make this branded everything, this nontraditional kind of work, is it always starts with gaining the client's trust, because the very nature of this kind of work is often you're doing something that's never been done before and that the client's never done before. And with that naturally comes anxiety of like, "What is this? How are we gonna do it? Is this gonna be effective for my business?
So they're unlikely to get on board with letting you do it if they don't trust that you have their best interest at heart, that you understand their business. And in the cases of where we've been successful, like KFC and like Old Spice, I think people would be surprised. Because the work on those two brands can be kind of crazy and out there, people would be surprised how deeply we understand those two businesses, and how invested everybody on the team is in the success of those businesses.
And that we know all the numbers and that we're tracking it, and that we're very interested, including the creative directors on like, "How did the campaign work? How are sales going?" And the clients know that. And they know that we're as interested in their success as they are, so when we bring them these crazy ideas, they believe that we believe, and that we feel it's gonna work and it's gonna drive their business.
So that's critical to selling that type of work, is you have to not only make clients feel that you understand their business, that you're invested, but you actually have to be truly invested and you have to truly have their best interests at heart.
Charles: And I'm assuming with that mindset in place, it's no longer enough for ideas to come just from the creative department. If you're gonna have work that really transcends and crosses over channels and disciplines, you have to have a company that's designed and built for ideas coming from everywhere.
Eric Baldwin: Yeah, you have to do a lot of — to use a sports metaphor — downfield work. Strategists, comes planning, account management, those roles are vital in where we are successful, you'll see all of us firing on all cylinders with that. Those groups that are super successful with making branded everything-
Charles: You guys are good at the branding thing by the way.
Jason Bagley: Have we branded our catchphrase?
Eric Baldwin: So the folks that are doing that are functioning like entrepreneurial units, so they have a team pride and ownership, and feel like they have a stake in the success of the brand and of that piece of business in the shape of different work. And without all those people functioning, you're just not gonna get anywhere.
You'll just bang your head against the wall. And again, we do that in some places better than others, but that is the way forward. Collaboration is the way forward, creators aren't king or queen anymore. They're part of a collaborative unit.
Jason Bagley: And we like to talk about Wieden+Kennedy as a creatively-led agency. That doesn't mean that the creatives lead everything. It means that every decision by every person in every department should be creatively-led, creatively motivated.
So the account team, when it's working, when we're producing the greatest variety of different types of work and of the greatest quality, it's when everybody on the team from media, comms, planning, account, creative. Everyone is completely motivated by just making the best work, the best creative work.
Eric Baldwin: There are so many examples that we have of work that we've made that wouldn't have happened without people in those departments. There's the Old Spice SQUID that Bagley was talking about couldn't have happened if it were just creative people working on it. We did this really great Air Max Times Square takeover that never would've happened had [inaudible 00:44:11] planning not just kept pushing and making that thing happen, and making it bigger than it could've been.
Jason Bagley: A year or two ago, when I was still a creative director on All Spice, one of our media team members came and said, "Super exciting. We bought all of Sports Center. We have every single commercial pod and every second of the show. Isn't that great. It's eight minutes of content." And we were like, "What did you do?" And normally we work hand-in-hand with media, so that wouldn't have been a surprise.
They are always bringing us like, "Hey, what about this? This is a unique media opportunity." And then we'll talk about it and be like, "Oh yeah, that would be cool, we could do this." In this case, I think there was some sort of miscommunication. They just said, "We bought eight minutes of content," and we're like, "What in the world are we gonna do with eight minutes?"
But it forced us to do the most insane ESPN takeover in the history of ESPN, with Terry Crews. And it was just completely bananas. That was kind of being forced into it by our media team who saw an opportunity.
Charles: Necessity is the mother of invention.
Eric Baldwin: Yeah, I love those kinds of stories because chaos is a big thing at Wieden+Kennedy, and that's a very chaotic moment where with those limitations, they were forced to do something that was really great.
Charles: Before we go, I want to just spend a couple minutes having you guys talk about taking over these positions, and what you've discovered about yourselves as you step into these roles. You've been the ECDs now for six months, since the beginning of the year. What have you found to be the most surprising part of the job?
Eric Baldwin: I think for me — maybe Bagley too, he'll have to say — it's been the fact that everything we say is heard on full volume and taken very seriously and very to heart, so that has been a good learning to be sure of your intent, of what you're saying is super clear and that everybody understands where you're coming from. Otherwise, you're misunderstood and that void is left to be filled with-
Charles: Which is going to be challenging for people who have been successful by playing on and over the edges of what is expected, to suddenly realize those little asides and quips can certainly be utterly misconstrued.
Eric Baldwin: Yeah, Bagley and I are said to be pretty self-deprecating maybe to a fault in this job. So we gotta work on that a little bit.
Jason Bagley: Yeah, we definitely, I don't think are known for taking ourselves overly seriously. I think we're known for taking our job very seriously and the work very seriously, but that's been one of the learning curves. Not that we needed to take ourselves seriously, but that we need to be aware that when you're in leadership, people listen to what you say and they may take you literally when you meant it as a joke, so we're still learning how do we be our regular selves ...
Eric Baldwin: That we don't lose all the spontaneity. The spontaneity is fun and I think for us in our CD roles, that spontaneity served us well in terms of keeping creators on their toes, not knowing what we're going to do next or how we might approach a situation. I think that served us well, but we'll find a way to harness it.
Charles: Leadership I think is such a two-way street. It's easy for people who are as genuine as you guys are to spend a lot of time worrying about how you show up, and that's clearly necessary and appropriate. But you also have a right and responsibility to decide how you want people to show up who work for you, and as you've gone through this evolution over the past six months, what conclusions have you come to in terms of what you expect of everybody else?
Jason Bagley: What do we expect from everybody else? I think that first of all, going back to what we used to have as the brief on Old Spice; if it's possible and within budget we're not interested. I think we expect people to keep bringing super provocative, beautiful, hilarious, crazy, just amazing creative and to err on the side of going too far in everything that we do in terms of creativity, and we can always pull it back.
But we want people to go for it, and we want to make great, entertaining, just amazing work that people want, that people would actually choose to engage with. I think another thing is that we want people to just show up and engage and bring their best talents and to be there. If you're gonna be here, then be here, and give us everything that you got and we'll try to provide the greatest opportunities that we possibly can.
You have to either engage and fully buy in and give everything that you got to get the most out of Wieden+Kennedy, or if your heart's somewhere else then you owe it to yourself to go do that thing or be at that other place. So we just want people to be present and engaged is another thing.
Eric Baldwin: It's a hard job and it's a hard frontier to pioneer in, so we really need everyone in the building supporting each other and having each other's backs, everyone trying to come together and make the best work possible. And just be there for each other. It's lonely doing it by yourself. And if we're all working together towards that same goal, we're gonna get there much faster and it's gonna be more fun.
Charles: How do you create an environment of collaboration? Because obviously in any creative company these days, you have to have that. There are no creative companies that I've seen, in which a single individual person's talent is creating a success anymore. The world is too complicated, there are too many disciplines involved. What do you have to do to create a culture in which collaboration becomes the norm and the expected?
Eric Baldwin: I think supporting people's ideas no matter where they're coming from is one thing we try to do, is make sure that people know that we see their effort and that we appreciate it, and I think that shows people who might not want to collaborate as much, it shows them that, "Well maybe there's some value in that. Maybe there's something I can learn from that person." So I think being champions for people when they're kinda stepping up and putting themselves on the line is super important.
Jason Bagley: I think also just holding people accountable and making it clear, we expect you to collaborate. It's not acceptable to work here and to not be open to other people's ideas, because we were true to the idea and if you're not open to other people's ideas, that means you're not open to potentially a better idea than the one you have. And that's not acceptable.
But the other part of that, is that there is a distinction between collaboration, which is absolutely mandatory, especially when you have a building filled with the smartest, most talented, most interesting people I think in the world, you have to tap into that. But it's also not decision by committee. There are people who have their designated space where they're the lead, and there's strategy and there's account and there's ... We have all these amazing specialties.
So it's on the creative leaders, and the creatives throughout the building to be collaborative, but ultimately ... And they need to listen to the opinions and let everybody have a voice because we get these amazing people, but ultimately there has to be people designated to make the call and to decide, "Okay, what are we gonna go with? We've heard everybody's idea. Here's the idea we're gonna go with. And here's how we're gonna execute it."
And that, as far as the creative idea, that final call will remain with the creatives in what we hope is a very collaborative process.
Charles: At the end of each show, I like to summarize what I've heard and in what I describe as three takeaways about what it is that I think makes you distinctive. And the things that I've been struck by today are, first, your willingness to truly take risk, and I think this has been evident across your entire career, including how you first came to Wieden and the fact that you had a point of view, and clearly in your personal creative success, and even in taking these positions.
Your willingness to embrace risk and really, it's not out of a platitude, it's a real emotional commitment as much as anything else. Two is real self-awareness, an acknowledgment that we don't know everything, and we want to get better, and we're interested in other people's points of views. And that's not, again, a platitude; that's a sincere belief.
And then I think third is the fact that your willingness and openness to investing in other people, with a remarkable lack of ego actually. Most people who get your jobs, jobs like this in the industry, bring with them a lot of ego, which makes it harder for people around them to connect, and I think in many ways you are symptomatic, you're emblematic I guess better put of the kind of environment, the kind of culture, the kind of mindset that modern creative companies need to be led by.
That, to your point Eric, when you talk about "if you're not here for the idea then it isn't gonna work," and I think you're here for the idea, and you're here to help people make the ideas as great as possible. And I think those are really powerful platforms to success. I want to thank you both for being here today. It's been fantastic talking to you both and I'm really looking forward to seeing your evolution over the years to come.
Jason Bagley: Thank you.
Eric Baldwin: Awesome, thanks for having us.
Charles: You've been listening to Fearless, The Art of Creative Leadership. If you like what you've heard please rate us on iTunes, it helps a lot. If you want more information on this episode or any of the others go to fearlesscreativeleadership.com and thanks for listening.