January 14, 2022

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Colleen DeCourcy on lessons and Wieden+Kennedy’s next steps

Today, Wieden+Kennedy’s Global Chief Creative Officer and President Colleen DeCourcy announced her retirement from advertising and the end of her run at arguably the ad world’s most celebrated independent agency.

In 2013 after leading the charge at agencies including TBWA and Organic, DeCourcy stepped up to a challenge from co-founder Dan Wieden to ensure that the agency he co-founded with David Kennedy in 1982 would live up to its storied creative legacy going forward. Under DeCourcy’s watch, Wieden+Kennedy continued to ignite the industry with consistently groundbreaking and inspiring ideas in the face of a changing consumer and marketing landscape. 

With the news, advertising also says farewell to one of its most prominent and influential creative leaders.

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Now, DeCourcy herself passes the torch to Wieden’s next generation of leaders, including Global Chief Creative Officer Karl Lieberman and Global Chief Operating Officer Neal Arthur, as well as a new guard in Portland, Executive Creative Directors John “JP” Petty, former head of the New York’s social team; and Hermeti and Ana Balarin, the celebrated Mother London creative leaders who joined the agency earlier this year.

DeCourcy sat down with Ad Age to share her thoughts on the importance of change, where she believes the new guard will take Wieden+Kennedy going forward and the fate of the advertising industry. 

So this is a big moment, for you and for the agency. Why retire now?

This plan has been in my head for so long. I never believed this would be a tear-this-job-from-my-cold-dead-hands kind of situation, and so I think I always knew that when I felt that the job had been done, that it would be my time to go. This is an organization that has always believed that change is good. I love this place so fucking much, and I gave it everything I’ve got. But it doesn’t define me any more than I define it. I’m excited, Neal and Karl are excited, and I think everything is playing out as it should.

So what are you going to do?

Oh, God, whatever the fuck I want? I wouldn’t work in advertising, that I know for sure, It was hard work, I’m getting close to retirement age, so I’m gonna take it slow, take it easy. My family is on the East Coast. It was definitely worth going west for this, but it’s not where I would end up for the rest of my life.

Advertising doesn’t seem to be in the greatest place right now. There are talent issues, for example, and it’s not drawing creatives as it used to. Did that play a part in your leaving? What are your thoughts on where it is, at this point? 

The thing that unites us at Wieden+Kennedy is that none of us love advertising. What we love is creativity and ideas and brands. Do I still love that? Yeah, as much as I ever did. Do I think the industry is changing dramatically? I really do. Advertising’s favorite thing is to hate itself. Before COVID, my stump speech was, “Welcome to 21st century optimism.” It’s not the end of advertising. It’s the beginning of everything else. And everything else is really exciting. When I look at everything from, you know, Travis Scott [and McDonald’s] that’s like everything else to me. So I think there’s a lot of opportunity for creative people. I think what’s shaking out is the structures within which we deploy ourselves at problems. So, if you love the old way, yeah, you’re probably not going to love what’s coming. But if you love creativity and brands, I think it’s gonna be just fine.