Jim Riswold, Executive Director W+K12
Dec 1, 2012
Jan 5, 2013
I have never been one for long briefs.
My mom hates long briefs and is fond of saying, “Clean your plate; there are starving
children in North Korea and keep your briefs short and to the point.”
My father always says, “Listen to your mother.”
Long briefs tend to make for lazy ad people. The lazy creative doesn’t think beyond
the brief; they let the brief do the thinking for them. The lazy client doesn’t judge work
against anything more than if it is on brief.
It all tends to lead to milquetoast advertising.
Make the brief short because the shorter the brief, the more the thinking from creatives
and clients alike.
A brief is nothing more than the first rung on a ladder climbing to something better
than the brief, yet stems from the insight of the brief.
So, in an effort to please my mother, here is a very short brief, three pictures and a post
I saw somebody in a hat the other day.
That somebody’s hat read, “All I need to know about Islam I learned on 9/11.”
There are a lot of these hats around this country.
In other words, Islam has an image problem in this country.
P.S. For a little inspiration, listen to Nick Lowe’s What’s So Funny About Peace, Love and
Understanding? Yes, you can listen to Elvis Costello’s version if you prefer.
One more thing: Call me old, old-fashioned, space junk or a dinosaur, but I want to see
you fix Islam's image problem with a poster campaign.
About Jim Riswold
Jim Riswold is currently the executive director of W+K12, Wieden+Kennedy’s advertising school
masquerading as an experiment in creativity masquerading as an advertising school.
He started at Wieden+Kennedy in 1984. He was Dan Wieden’s first copywriter.
He worked primarily on a rather small account back then called Nike. Over the course of his near
20-year career on this account, he was kicked off it seven times, most often for saying exactly
what he thought; after all, Riswold says, “I thought I was paid for my opinion and colorful use of the
language, especially the word fuck.”
But it’s hard to stay mad at a bigmouth whose résumé reads like a history of contemporary
“Spike and Mike” TV Commercials
Charles Barkley declaring “I am not a role model”
Tiger Woods announcing “Hello World.”
“I Am Tiger Woods”
And for the evil empire at Microsoft: “Where do you want to go today?”
Back in the day, Newsweek named Riswold one of the 100 most influential people in American
George magazine wrote, “Riswold’s campaigns may have created more American icons than
anyone since Walt Disney. You would not, however, suspect it by looking at him…. Riswold looks
more like the seven-year philosophy undergrad he once was at the University of Washington than
one of the most powerful forces in American advertising.”
Riswold was diagnosed with leukemia in 2000 and retired from Wieden+Kennedy in 2005 to
become, in his words, a “fake artist,” going from “a career of selling people things they don’t need
to making things they don’t want.”
His artwork pokes fun at historical sacred cows such as Hitler, Mao, Stalin, Jesus and Kim Jong-
il for reasons explained in an essay he wrote for Esquire titled “Hitler Saved My Life.” Riswold calls
his work absurd realism. Others call it perverse whimsy. Still others call it “a black hole sucking the
life out of everything.”
Riswold’s artwork is included in the permanent collection of numerous Pacific Northwest museums
and respected private collections. He recently was commissioned to do a permanent installation
for the University of Washington Philosophy Department called Philosophy Is Not Funny. All this
attention to his “so-called art” confuses Riswold.
His latest show is about World War I. It is called The War to End All Wars That Fucked Up and
Didn’t End All Wars. (In case you were wondering, Riswold loathed Spielberg’s War Horse,
complaining that “only Spielberg could get a horse to overact” and that “the movie should’ve been
called My Friend Flicka Goes to War.”)
He is currently at work on his next show, tentatively called A Big Bowl of Cancer.
Speaking of cancer, Riswold beat leukemia and returned parttime to Wieden+Kennedy in 2009
to direct the W+K12 school. He attributes his smackdown of leukemia not to any heroic struggle,
but to the fact he was “too lazy to die.” He again proved himself “too lazy to die” by surviving
another tussle with cancer in 2011. He is stitched up and back at the helm of W+K12, benevolently
terrorizing his pupils into greatness.
P.S. Riswold also wrote Moby-Dick for his pal Herman Melville.
P.P.S. Riswold will be inducted into the prestigious One Club Creative Hall of Fame on 1/22/13.
Riswold, channeling Groucho Marx said, “I am highly suspicious of any club that would have me as