Lessons from Dan Wieden

We were in the edit bay. I had taken some slow motion footage of old people giggling in the back of a car and synched it up with some vintage beer commercial music. It felt funny and cool and it got a good reaction. But it didn’t mean anything. And Dan knew it.

I remember him saying something about all the noise out there. About all the voices acting silly and trying to get attention. “We’ve gotta have something to say,” he said.

And he was right. When the agency made the Nike spot, “Role Model,” it not only advertised shoes, it spoke to parents and reminded them to be responsible. It had something to say.

Same with the beautiful Nike spot, “If You Let Me Play,” still a personal favorite.

Don’t get me wrong. Dan is not against silly. Case in point, he never fired me. Even when I showed up at the company’s Winter Masked Ball and handed him a mask of my face. (I told him I’d be wearing a mask of his face for the night and he could wear mine if he wanted to).

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He didn’t fire me when a few of us started doing 15 minute dance parties in the middle of the work day. (They later grew into lunchtime concerts featuring acts like Cold War Kids, The Rapture, Cut Chemist, Juliette and The Licks and Janelle Monae.)

Dan also didn’t fire me when I convinced the agency to work for a half day so we could have a talent show. And he didn’t get upset, when one of the only acts in that talent show was me rapping to Outkast into a microphone that I later learned wasn’t turned on.

After the talent show, I was on the 6th floor where Dan’s office was. He walked by and said, “Nice job J.Lowe.” That was 2003. I ended up working there another 10 years, moving from the A/V apartment, to Joint Editorial until taking a leap of faith that lead to the launch of my first children’s book (a collaboration with writer/producer Kevin Diller, about a half octopus, half unicorn who feels different and wants to be accepted).

Dan Wieden accepted me. He knows that different is a good thing. And he likes folks bringing themselves, their whole personalities, their hearts and their creativity to the table without fear. It makes for great work and a fun office environment. Wieden+Kennedy was an excellent place to learn about storytelling.

Years ago, I had a mentor named Michael Daigle – a real yoda. Before I started at W+K, Michael saw the videos I was making, the art I was doing. He said, “If you show these to Dan, it’s like bringing him a vat of frosting. This is great style. But there’s no substance. You’ve gotta have some pound cake under the frosting.”

Years later, when I directed a music video for Duran Duran and showed it to Michael he said, “You’ve finally done it. You told a story.”

Michael passed on, not long after.

I crowd funded the Octicorn book.

I left W+K.

But I took with me lessons I learned from Dan.

I found a note recently. Something he said in the edit bay. “The less you say, the more it means.”

So I’m going to end this post here. Thanks Dan.

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