PSFK Conference Speaker Interview: Nick Barham And Dan Hon

Advertising agency Wieden + Kennedy’s Global Director and Creative Director share their insights on difficulties that creative businesses face, how they try to overcome them, and the current industry atmosphere.

Nick Barham and Dan Hon will be speaking at our upcoming PSFK CONFERENCE SAN FRANCISCO on October 6. Nick is currently Global Director of Wieden + Kennedy Tomorrow, working to help W+K innovate beyond its core advertising business by exploring such fields as technology and sustainability. Dan is the Interactive Creative Director at W+K, with a background in alternate reality gaming and entertainment. In anticipation of their talk about the future of creative business at the PSFK CONFERENCE SAN FRANCISCO 2011, we bring you some insights from Nick and Dan:

On October 6th, you are going to talk about the changes and challenges that creative businesses currently face. What are some of the difficulties you’ve seen thus far?

DH: Staffing and the makeup of teams over time. Creative agencies like W+K are good with big picture conceptual creatives, but frequently now we have to do systems thinking that goes beyond the three line big idea. That’s not necessarily what a ‘traditional’ creatives will want to do. A lot of innovation is also coming from outside the agency world, from people who probably wouldn’t want to work at an agency. How do we attract those people?

One of the big challenges we have is communicating the ideas and principles behind new kinds of interactive work. These are, in some instances, big, complicated systems that don’t lend themselves to simple abstraction.

NB: Creative businesses pride themselves on being connected to emerging culture. The volume and velocity of what’s new — its diversity and visibility, give a permanent sense of being left behind.  That innovation is happening elsewhere.  It often feels like the best stuff is being done by individuals, or people who don’t care about ‘business.’

Uncertainty about what could/should be made. The possibilities of different platforms, services and experiences are exhilarating. But the desire to experiment and go beyond what you’ve made before often comes up against the reality of business’s existing skill set or process.

Is anyone ‘winning?’ Is there anything positive that has caught your eye recently?

DH: Yes, but not from traditional agencies, I suppose. The things that are interesting to me have been high(er) risk and iteratively developed projects that are more fire-and-forget. I’d say that it would seem difficult to do such things in an agency/client environment without a great, trusting relationship. Everyone is trying to work out how to be nimble.

NB: It feels like most businesses are struggling to figure out their role and special skills in a very fluid and competitive market.  There might be intermittent wins, but it doesn’t feel like any organization has it sorted.  Perhaps winning is just being comfortable with this uncertainty.

Each of you have different roles at Wieden + Kennedy — what are you doing to try to overcome these challenges and create change?

DH: I get to ask dumb questions because I haven’t come from an agency background. Why are we doing things a particular way? How do our people cooperate in ways that they might not be used to? Can we work with our client and persuade them to work with us in a more iterative way?

NB: Bringing in different types of people and organizations who can help us think differently about how we work and what we make.

What do you think our audience will take away from your talk?

DH: Here are some things that we have tried. Here are some issues that we are facing as well. No one has this all figured out, but we can perhaps share what’s worked and what hasn’t.

NB: There’s no universal theory for making something brilliant and meaningful.  Trying to identify a new model or a new structure is less useful than experimenting with a bunch of different approaches.

Thanks, Nick and Dan!

Wieden + Kennedy

Nick and Dan will be speaking at the PSFK CONFERENCE SAN FRANCISCO 2011. Come listen to like minds as they share their ideas to make things better on stage and off. Find out more about the full lineup of speakers at the PSFK CONFERENCE SAN FRANCISCO 2011 here.

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