There are some who have dream job. There are others who have dream destinations. This is the story of an ad man who swapped one for the other.
Dean Wei joined Apple in 2009 as creative director of EMEA. He ended that 10-year stint with a move to Delhi as executive creative director at Wieden+Kennedy, when he formally joined the agency last week.
Wei says, “I have worked with about six or seven agencies during my career. But in some ways, Apple was the most creative place I’ve worked at."
He adds, "In so many ways, my role at Apple was like a dream job. I was the regional creative director for this company that makes amazing products that have changed the world. At the core there was design and the advertising and marketing is legendary. I had access to scale too, as I was overseeing creative directors across countries."
While Apple was a thoroughly enjoyable job, he was bitten by the travel bug and India was on top of the wishlist. "At Apple, I was doing work that was really satisfying and it’s hard to find an opportunity to do something that lets you build a business like that. But my wife and I are really curious travelers and love experiencing new places and enjoy a bit of a challenge,” says Wei.
The W+K India assignment is more like a homecoming for Wei. Prior to the decade at Apple, Wei had worked with W+K’s office in Shanghai. But his coming back to the agency is not about getting back to a comfort zone.
In fact, he sees a lot of similarity between the agency and Apple. He explains, "I think there’s a lot of integrity and no bullshit at the agency. They mean what they say. I believe in them. And that’s a similarity with Apple. It’s not just words or a mission statement on the wall."
He adds, “I was looking for somewhere to go and there are not many places where there’s this convergence of creative opportunity and talent. I had worked with W+K before in Shanghai and I have this passion for the agency. It’s a place that creates work that changes culture and gets people inspired. It does things for brands. I think Wieden is a place where I can form deep relationships with clients.”
“I don’t want to dispirit anyone but I don’t think I would come to join any other agency in India. In fact, I don’t think I’ll work with any other agency in the world. W+K has a special place in my heart because of the association with them. I had two super intense years in China and had a crazy time as we were building stuff up for the big event. (Wei's first stint with W+K was in the lead-up to the Beijing Olympics in 2008, where he worked on the Nike business.)
"I have some crazy ambitions and I know that I’ll have that opportunity here,” he says, talking about the plans for W+K in India.
“The offices (Shanghai and Delhi) are different in terms of scale and a little bit in personality. It’s an intense space where people want to do great work, but yet are very relaxed. It’s a culture of lots of individuals who are a little bit weird and creative and that’s celebrated,” he says. Wei joins the agency at a time when W+K in India is undergoing a transition. Gautham Narayanan, MD, W+K Delhi, who also spoke with Campaign India during the interaction with Wei (report to follow) stated that the 75-member team from 2017, now has a headcount of 55.
Wei intends to add that missing spark to get the agency back into the reckoning.
He explains, “I’m excited to come here and there’s a bit of a transition going on at the agency. There’s a need for a different kind of a spark and I’d like to be useful. I hope that there’s a culmination of what I’ve learnt in Apple and before that in advertising across America and UK that will help us create something that’s different and will surprise people.”
When asked about whether his current mandate in Delhi, is a more of a challenge than his role in London, as the regional creative director at Apple, Wei stated that he expects this role to be similar.
Lessons from Apple
“I think people look at Apple from the outside and think it’s like its products – immaculately designed with processes in place. But, from the inside, it’s just a place with really smart people making a lot of stuff. During my stint with Apple I learnt a lot and the world has evolved. The iPhone was brand new, when I joined the company. As we got more global, it was very different. You went through every couple of years depending on the state of the company, market, or the phone industry. Apple did a great job of keeping ahead of it, but it meant a lot of changes perpetually. Apple makes it feel like it’s effortless, but there’s a lot of hard work and craziness going on behind the scenes,” he says.
And Wei goes on to state that like Apple, at W+K too it’s about getting creatives to understand the strategy of a brand and making meaningful work. He explains, “I do feel like I can certainly contribute and I have this outside perspective. I learnt a lot as a creative at Apple because I was the client working with the agency, but I was also the creative director. I learnt a lot about how brands can think and hope to share that with both our teams and our clients.”
“Everything matters, all customer touchpoints matter. I hate that word, but it’s important. There are so many ways to encourage a certain feeling or thinking about the brand. There are so many opportunities to capitalise on that. We have to help our client. Sometimes, the day-to-day momentum takes you to a certain direction, but sometimes it takes an honest agency to say that you may need to do something else. We all want to make meaningful work that impacts the challenge.”
W+K’s worldwide track record at awards shows is impressive, but Wei insists his mandate at the agency is about doing great work and not chasing the wins.
He says, “No, I don’t care about awards. They are nice and sometimes help your career, but I don’t think agencies should be in the news for that. Clients should be in the news for work we create for them. That’s a marker of success. The news and PR about the awards is not as much as it's news about the products doing well. And W+K has a good success rate at that. Apple had that too. I want to do original, meaningful things that change society. I know it is ambitious, but I think that’s how you win awards. I think that’s what a great creative would want.”