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Blake Harrop

Global creative agency Wieden+Kennedy is known for eye-catching and thought-provoking campaigns that have helped it become a leader in its industry. I Amsterdam spoke to Blake Harrop, its managing director in the Netherlands, to find out more about the firm’s success.


How three little words helped change the game

If you ever needed evidence that words have power, then the advertising industry is a good place to look. At their best, campaigns have the power to change the world. For Wieden+Kennedy (W+K), it was three little words which powered the firm’s journey from a single space in Portland, Oregon, to become one of the world’s leading agencies with offices in New York, London, Tokyo, Delhi, São Paulo, Shanghai – and Amsterdam. Those words? ‘Just Do It’. It was this slogan which W+K used to help Nike establish itself as arguably the world’s biggest sports brand. Three words that are now part of everyday life: a motto for people who want to challenge themselves or overcome obstacles.

It’s this commitment to creating eye-catching creative which Blake Harrop, the managing director of W+K’s Amsterdam office, thinks has helped the firm remain a leader in its field. “We, as an agency, are very strong at creative,” Harrop says. “So, we create great TV commercials, great video content and campaigns. That’s something we’re known for.”

As well as delivering high-concept advertising for big brands, W+K has also helped firms take advantage of modern marketing and storytelling techniques. This ability to adapt has seen its Amsterdam office double in size over the last five years. “We’ve expanded into other channels,” Harrop explains,” and we’ve embraced technology. We’ve gone from what was perhaps slightly more of a regional focus to a global one. We’ve worked for Samsung and Facebook on global campaigns and we were hired by Instagram to launch its Stories feature globally.”

Why diverse talent is key to W+K’s success

Spending time talking to Harrop is a pleasure, if not a little daunting: one of the first things the internet informs you about him – after the fact that he speaks five languages – is that he is a Judo master. In fact, at one point he was touted as a future Olympian. But, in person, he’s far from scary. And, if words are powerful, the way he praises his team at W+K Amsterdam speaks volumes.

“If we don’t hire great talent to work on the business we can’t grow and we can’t succeed,” he says. “I’m so proud of the people here. Our business is built on people and talent and we have a group of people here that represent 35 different nationalities and backgrounds. That’s amazing. I love the fact that our company has the appetite to evolve and ask difficult questions of ourselves. And I love that we support each other.” Amsterdam actually plays a helpful part in this, Harrop continues: “There are many nationalities represented in the city itself, so it’s easier here to hire people from diverse national backgrounds than it is in many other cities.”

Wieden Kennedy Amsterdam office 2021 by Vincent Houtman

Diversity is one word which keeps coming up in our conversation, and it’s clear that W+K Amsterdam has worked tirelessly to create an inclusive environment in which talent from all over the world can shine. “We always challenge ourselves to try and look beyond the obvious places and try to bring people in who are going to add to our culture, Harrop explains. “And we like working with people who are from different backgrounds, that way our team can learn different ways of advertising and brand building.”

With that statement, Harrop acknowledges the importance of diversity not simply from a perspective of social justice, as general discourse sometimes reduces it to. It also makes perfect sense from a business perspective. Brands are finding inclusion more and more important, because consumers are, too. So as an agency, it’s simply not enough to tell your potential clients you understand them and their respective target audiences: you need to be able to prove this to win business and to create the desired outcome as well. Simply put: not being inclusive is just not an option.  

Getting involved in the local ecosystem

Not content with just being another part of the Amsterdam ecosystem, W+K is regularly involved with initiatives to help reinvest in its home. Personally, Harrop sits on the diversity inclusion committee at Amsterdam’s Chamber of Commerce and mentors local startups. The list of W+K’s business activities in the community is long and substantial and includes talking to students at schools and universities, supporting the non-profit youth organisation JINC Amsterdam, reach-out programmes, working with the Dutch NGO Klabu and promoting local businesses during the coronavirus crisis.

In terms of diversity, W+K is also involved with Amsterdam Diverse and Inclusive (ADI), a City of Amsterdam-led scheme which aims to stimulate diversity and inclusion in the workplace. “I was put in touch with ADI after getting in contact about a law which prevents us making diversity data public with regards to gender and race,” Harrop explains.

“The law was made after the Second World War, so you can understand the intention was a very good one. But what I have seen is that it’s now holding some companies back from publishing their diversity information. As a company that embraces transparency and holds itself accountable for becoming a more inclusive workplace, we want to be able to do that. But the people working in the city government really have an attitude of trying to help, it’s a very progressive city. I’m very encouraged to hear that the city is putting in place initiatives to share information, find good solutions, and make sure that everyone has access to that.”

Wieden Kennedy Amsterdam office 2021 by Vincent Houtman

How being based in Amsterdam has helped W+K excel

As someone who has lived all over the world, Harrop is equally as positive about his personal experiences of life in the Dutch capital. “I absolutely love living here. It’s a friendly city and small enough that people will talk to each other. In big cities that’s often less the case. The Dutch culture is very friendly and welcoming, as well as being representative of so many different nationalities. Also, I like to work hard but I also like that the city has a good work-life balance.”

Of course, the ease of doing business in Amsterdam is another reason that W+K continues to go from strength to strength here, Harrop says. “If we’d have tried to set up our first office outside of the US anywhere except Amsterdam we would have given up, because the other offices we’ve established have been really hard to get off the ground. But in Amsterdam that was not the case. I think there’s an open-mindedness and friendliness about the city and I think it extends to the business scene as well. We were welcomed by clients and were welcomed by the city: It was much easier to set up a business here than anywhere else. It actually spoiled for us a little bit.”

Read more about Amsterdam’s creative sector.

You can find the original article from I Amsterdam here.

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