Over the past three decades, Wieden + Kennedy has gotten pretty good at telling stories on behalf of clients. Now it wants to try telling a different kind of story, and in the process, expand its creative footprint and forge itself an alternative revenue stream.
The independent Portland agency has launched a new unit called Sharp Stuff that is dedicated to finding and telling simple, memorable stories in new and interesting ways. Precisely what products that will yield is not yet entirely clear, said director Nick Barham. But at the very least the work will expose agency creatives to new ways of thinking about storytelling.
"What we’re interested in is how could you use different platforms and areas to tell a story and build stories in different ways," said Barham. Sharp Stuff is "aimed at getting us involved in a different kind of creative process and seeing what we can learn from different industries and areas and how that might feed back into what we do here."
The first product to emerge from Sharp Stuff will be called American Dreamers. Currently envisioned as a print book, e-book, and website, American Dreamers will collect stories, games, essays, art, interviews and hacks (so pretty much whatever) about inventors and entrepreneurs who’ve hatched ideas that could make the world a better place.
"We sat down and thought about who out there has got interesting ideas about way the world could be, we’ve got a list of 200 people we’d love to contribute and we’ve been approaching them," said Barham. Ideas to be featured range from "urban gardens to space travel to healthy relationships to better food to reasons why poetry will save the world." The book is due out in November.
Whether to supplement client billings or drum up publicity, ad agencies are increasingly backing side projects centering on their own intellectual property. Sharp Stuff itself joins several other non-client-facing W+K subsidiaries, such as W&K Entertainment (a production company) and PIE (Portland Incubator Experiment, which helps generate local community projects). Sharp Stuff consists of a staff of five, two of whom—a content director and a design director—work on the unit full time.
Barham says the agency hasn’t yet decided what to charge for American Dreamers, though the printed book is likely to most closely resemble a paperback. "It might be a coffee table book eventually," he said.