Commentary

Portland Vs. Detroit Vs. The Rest Of The Advertising World


CANNES, FRANCE -- The Lions Festival opened on an oddly geocentric tone here Friday morning, starting with two back-to-back sessions featuring agency executives from U.S. cities that apparently have a chip on their shoulder -- Portland-based Wieden+Kennedy and Detroit-based Lowe Campbell Ewald. That was most evident when Lowe Chief Creative Officer Mark Simon took the stage wearing a black t-shirt with "Detroit Vs. Everybody" on it. But it was also clear in comments made by Wieden Global COO Dave Luhr, who went so far as to compare some of the agency world's hottest hubs -- Austin, Texas and Brooklyn, NY -- as Portland wannabes.

What makes the urban snide so striking is the setting for the agency seminars -- Cannes, which is supposed to be about the world’s advertising community coming together and sharing their cultures, exchanging ideas, and getting all kumbaya.

An even odder connection between the Lowe and Wieden municipal hubris is that the Cannes festival has been replaying Eminem’s iconic Detroit comeback spot or Chrysler on the conference screens between seminars. That spot was produced not by a Detroit agency, but by Portland-based Wieden.

Wieden’s Luhr expressed his Portland pride as one of the reasons the agency’s culture is so great, attracts great people, and produces a unique form of at advertising -- even if it sometimes is about Motown, not Portlandia.

Luhr said it is Wieden’s unique Portland-based culture that helps it lure some of the best talent in the ad industry, including recent get, and OMMA All Star, Colleen DeCourcy, who said she nonetheless had to prove herself by “failing three times” during her interview with the Portland brass.

Luhr said the other big factor making Wieden’s culture so unique, and so attractive to talent, is its independence, which he vowed to keep -- indefinitely. His main reason, he said, is that he believes independent agencies that sell to big holding companies ultimately “lose their culture.

“We used to get phone calls from all the usuals on a daily basis,” he said, adding that they may have given up, recognizing that Wieden’s independence is a fundamental part of its DNA. “I don’t think we’ve gotten a call in the last year,” he said.

The other big reason, he said, was “socialistic,” noting that the agency has more than 1,200 employees -- “a lot o great people that helped form that culture.

“If we sold, we would probably be very happy from a financial standpoint,” he said, adding that while the agency’s partners would get rich, the rest of the organization would “get nothing” except for a changed culture.

While Interpublic-owned Lowe is not independent, its geographic roots are also very much part of its culture, and so the agency’s “Detroit: Reboot City” themed seminar was a metaphor for the agency, as well as the city it was born in.

When the agency announced it was moving from a Michigan suburb back to downtown Detroit, the session’s moderator Jose Miguel Sokoloff, Chief Creative Officer of Colombian sister shop Lowe/SSP3, said he “thought that was a strange move” until he visited the city.

“I was blown away,” he said, adding that when he looked beyond the “haunting quality of empty buildings, things that are running down and falling apart” there was also an “incredible activity” going on in Downtown Detroit.

“It’s coming back in a unique way,” he added, “because a lot of creative people are starting their industries there.”

A prime example of that, cited by Lowe’s Simon, is watchmaker Shinola, which he said is named after a term originally used to differentiate shoe polish from “shit.” He said the pride and craftsmanship embodied by Shinola is attracting others to the city, or back to it.

He cited visits to Detroit last Friday by native Madonna and President Bill Clinton, whom he noted purchased three watches from Shinola.

One person who has not actually come back to Detroit, ironically, is Simon who conceded he still lives in the suburbs but has recently started “looking” for an apartment in the city.

Tags: agency, cannes
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