An evening with Dan Wieden


DDB Sydney were fortunate enough to  host a unique closed event for the Communications Council recently – an evening with Advertising Legend , Dan Wieden of Wieden + Kennedy. A select number of creatives from across Sydney were lucky enough to attend, including DDB Sydney’s own Trong Ronakiat. Here Trong, as an up-and-coming-creative, outlines some of the key outtakes from the evening, 


The name Dan Wieden needs no introduction. As a founder of the agency that champions creativity itself, he must know it all – or so a group of nearly 40 of us creatives had hoped. Wishing that on this special evening, at a time when creativity in our region seems to be in decline, we just might be lucky enough to hear Dan’s secrets to the dark arts…


He did give us something, but it’s not what anyone was expecting.


‘Fire them!’ he said, when someone from the group asked how to sell good work to bad clients. A response backed up by the fact that they had fired two major clients last year. He seemed a little annoyed when we looked for reassurance that he actually meant what he said. It was clear what he thought – “This lot need to grow some balls!”


When asked about how he deals with digital integration he commented, “We’re also struggling with it, but we’re just trying things, you know? This whole Wieden Kennedy thing is an experiment!”


Someone asked if he still tinkers with scripts. Dan laughed – “The last thing I wrote was three words”. He noted, “When you’re in a managerial position it’s all about allowing people under you to try stuff so they can grow into their potential – and make sure you give them the permission to fail.”


Throughout the evening Dan kept coming back to this – the permission to fail.


He provided us with the origin of the philosophy to which he continues to live by today – He had been working for a conservative PR Company for five years and his wife was pregnant with their fourth child. One day, the company decided they’d had enough of him so they fired him. He came home, told his wife and without turning around, she said “Oh well, something will turn up”.


This response had a profound effect on him. His wife had given him the permission to fail – the greatest gift he ever received and this was the only thing he wanted us to take from the session. He specifically underlined the fact that we shouldn’t try to copy what he’s done because it’s probably not going to work. That it was just some freak accident that happened 20 odd years ago. Every night you go to sleep, the world changes.


So there we were, trying our best to extract the magic recipe. But there wasn’t much we couldn’t have found on the Internet. Yet we left feeling oddly reassured. Reassured to know that a god of advertising is incredibly human. That at 70, his eyes still light up when speaking of the future. And that even though times have changed, his sole advice confirms what our founder Bill Bernbach had said decades earlier – that the future, as always, belongs to the brave.


Trong Ronakiat – Art Director DDB Sydney

Guest Author DDB Blog