Want to Work at Wieden+Kennedy?
Meet Lauren Ranke
MICHAEL O'DONNELL / EDITOR
Wieden + Kennedy is an indisputable gold standard of advertising. So many companies try to replicate the agency, founded in 1982 and headquartered in Portland. Not just for its success but also for its reputation as a liberating workplace eschewing everything corporate and creating subversively left-field yet sea-changing content. It seems like just about everyone would kill to work there; for the fourth consecutive year, Wieden+Kennedy received one of the highest vote counts in our annual "Top Companies WNW Members Would Kill to Work for Full-Time" survey.
So we interviewed Lauren Ranke, one of our favorite members and the Director of Creative Recruiting at Wieden+Kennedy Portland. Lauren tells us how she's seen the agency evolve over her 20+ year tenure and how W+K balances an impressive talent retention rate with a steady stream of new freelancing and full-time faces. "I’ve seen some positive outcomes from painful changes over two decades at W+K. Turnover keeps the creative environment vital. And yes, I realize the irony of me saying that given my tenure!" Lauren also shares her favorite W+K campaigns over the years, her favorite part of the job, and insights into what it will take for you to get hired so you can discover your favorite part of your new job at Wieden+Kennedy.
Photography by WNW Member Bridget Baker
Tell us a bit about your background. Who is Lauren Ranke and how did she come to be the Director of Creative Recruiting at Wieden+Kennedy?
I was raised by Catholic, Detroit hippies. In and after college I worked in Public TV and post-production. But I wanted a walkable urban life close to nature, so I moved to Portland in 1995.
My first week in Portland, a temp agency sent me to W+K who hired me on the spot in broadcast traffic--a job requiring a whole lot of faxing. I hated advertising but needed a paycheck so I worked and faxed really hard. At that time W+K was wild, unruly, intimate. Before long I fell in love with the agency and every person in it. After 5 years in entry-level positions, I started feeling antsy, because that’s normal.
So in 1999 I quit W+K and freelanced around Portland in project management type roles at 5 different small shops. W+K called me back in 2001, and thanks to Melanie Myers I got the chance to help in creative resourcing. It was 2008 when I first started recruiting, and things started blowing up here. It was an exciting time because many of the first people I facilitated hiring made game-changing work and are running their own shops now. Being in the middle of all that rapid change and growth cemented my passion for recruiting and talent.
What were some of the challenges and breakthroughs in launching your career?
I’ve felt totally insecure, like I didn’t belong here. I’ve had boring roles that felt removed from all the fun. I’ve worked for many bosses, some who didn’t care whether I succeeded. I’ve been overworked, burnt out, lost.
When things get rough I mentally step back and watch whether the storm will pass. So far, it always passes. I guess rather than breaking through in spectacular fashion, it’s been one long sustained effort, step by step, getting back as much as I give. This makes me sound patient, which is totally untrue!
Describe Wieden+Kennedy in three words.
Illogical, Incomparable, Magical
Which Wieden campaigns are you proudest of and why?
I love so much of the writing on Old Spice. Old Spice Foam still makes me giggle. Hardest Working Collection is great. The Man Your Man Could Smell Like was magical and amazing to witness since a few of the creatives on it were brand new hires at the time.
Imported from Detroit and a lot of the Dodge and Chrysler work tugged my hometown heartstrings.
What separates W+K from other agencies?
Our independence gives some license to set our own rules, to a degree. We value the idea of freedom and push boundaries of normal workplace culture by cultivating playful rebellion. That can lead to expression and a lot of discourse.
Another distinction for Portland is our distance from industry hubs. That buffers us a little from the hive-mind mentality and makes people a bit more focused, loyal, dedicated. It’s not for everyone, but if it’s for you it’s hard to beat.
All that is tied together by an unwavering, agency-wide consensus about quality. It seems everyone that works here is battling to support the best possible work all the time. It’s invigorating, maddening, makes us debate each other a lot, but ultimately unites us.
Can you share some of the metrics on W+K’s retention rate and the average length of employment? Are many of the higher W+K positions occupied by W+K lifers who rose through the ranks?
The average tenure for the creative department is 5 years. The agency average tenure is 6 years. While a few higher positions have lifers in them, there’s been an influx of new perspectives on all levels in the last few years. This has both shaken things up, and hardened our resolve.
I think we have a reputation for people coming here and parking it - or that people want to end up here when they want to settle down, which makes me cringe a little.
I’ve seen some positive outcomes from painful changes over two decades at W+K. Turnover keeps the creative environment vital. And yes, I realize the irony of me saying that given my tenure!
What do you see as some of the key factors behind W+K’s ability to attract and retain creative talent?
It seems like people have always been, and still are drawn to the variety of opportunities we offer under one roof. I think creative people will always crave that. It’s super fun to watch this diversification play out now--not only in terms of clients but also formats.
Also, the community is pretty dynamic here and I think that’s fulfilling something people need. What I love is that I don’t feel pressure to be a part of any group or anything; it pretty organic, and it’s presence in my life tends to expand and contract as I need it. People are drawn to each other here.
What about the culture of W+K makes it an ideal place for potential hires to work?
We try to subvert typical workplace culture because typical workplace culture breeds mediocrity. Freedom of expression is a must for creativity. If you’re into that, it’s ideal for you.
How does your job onboarding account for potential hires moving to Portland from another city or state?
Our relocation package is supportive and generous. Moving is an emotional drain, so we try to smooth out the rough parts of the transition as much as possible!
You’ve been at W+K for over 20 years. How have you seen its identity and scale evolve over that time?
Yeah, we are totally 'big agency' now. But thankfully we still have a tendency toward intimacy. We were once a punk kid, now we’re the eccentric old auntie. The industry has forced us to evolve, experiment with how we organize ourselves. We’re more adult now, more responsible and analytical. Honestly, the work is harder than ever. The biggest priority, and sometimes riddle is figuring out how to keep it fun.
What does it take to succeed at W+K?
We don’t measure creative success solely based on what clients buy.
It’s more about how much great thinking you're bringing to the table with every brief, and how your work contributes to the creative process. Hearty, resilient, prolific creative minds tend to thrive here.
What qualities are most important in a prospective hire? What are you looking for in the portfolio of a potential hire that's unique to W+K?
Prolificness, because it shows you can handle the churn. Truly creative people work really hard at it, so we’re always looking for evidence of that effortful quality.
In the work itself, there needs to be evidence of courage, a drive toward something different and strange and electric and real.. there has to be a fire in the belly that comes through. Ideally there’s some earnest optimism.
Getting great work made in this business is difficult, but you have to believe something great is possible, or else you’re dead!
What’s one piece of advice that our members need to hear?
Don’t allow freelance life to lull you into a sense of detachment. I think you get to the best work when you’re really connecting with the team you’re working with, so try to engage as deeply as possible.
Bring a point of view, intelligently push and dig into the conversations about the work. Freelancers have a unique opportunity to make an impact in many different places!
What’s your favorite part of the job?
The community at Wieden + Kennedy is amazing and I love every person here.
Getting to work in a world-class, yet non-corporate-y place with these people is my most favorite thing.
What do you do when Not Working?
I’m an amateur painter and writer. I do some volunteer work for homeless families.
My hubby and I are both creative people, he has a music studio in our backyard (WNW Member #37585)! We're also runners. We basically spend our time making each other laugh and trying to take care of ourselves and loved ones!
Photography by Bridget Baker