WPP’s CEO, Mark Read, calls the shots. Given that he leads the world’s largest collection of marketing and ad agencies (including AKQA, Grey, Ogilvy, VMLY&R, and WundermanThompson), the shots that Read calls tend to be heard and considered far and wide.
To this end, Judy Pollack, executive editor of Ad Age, asked Read several pertinent questions recently. Read’s replies are clearly worthy of some consideration and discussion.
Read sees a growing need for four-headed ad monsters:
We are still focused on strong creative talent and strong strategists. What we need more of is people who are able to see the whole picture for clients. The people who are most in-demand are those that can really help CMOs navigate advertising one day, digital transformation the next—the tech stack, programmatic media. The complexity of marketing has really risen exponentially in the last five or 10 years and as we became more siloed as an organization and as an industry, we had fewer people who were able to see everything.
Read believes in strong parenting for creative enterprises:
If you were to ask me the right brand structure for WPP, I look at companies like LVMH and Disney—which are creative organizations that have brands inside. Louis Vuitton, Pixar, Marvel are all brands inside a strong parent company brand. I believe 100 percent in a strong AKQA, a strong Ogilvy, a strong Mindshare or Mediacom, and Devika wouldn’t have joined us if she didn’t believe we could create a strong Ogilvy, nor would Andy Main [Ogilvy’s global CEO].
Read loves to demolish silly silos:
We made a decision two years ago to make WPP more client-centric and simpler for our clients to navigate by breaking down the artificial walls between traditional [marketing] and digital and analog and digital that made it harder for clients to get media-neutral ideas out of the system.
Read’s take on the agency business is to make it lean, make it integrated, and driven forward by people with an expansive vision and a wide array of technical skills.
I like Read’s take, as expressed in this Ad Age interview. I also like the odd, but smart, new unions like WundermanThompson.
Lester Wunderman helped to invent direct marketing and J. Walter Thompson is the traditional agency stalwart from the 19th century. These are iconic agencies in their respective fields and it makes sense that they are one comprehensive brand today.
Everything Under One Curated Roof
WPP employs 100,000 people across the globe. The company’s scale is mind-blowing and its capabilities unmatched. This doesn’t mean WPP agencies always win or that their agency model is right for every client or agency worker.
As someone who lives and works far away from Manhattan and holding companies and big agencies with multinational clients, I do find value in Read’s thinking. At the same time, there’s a need to filter.
I hear from or about clients who are routinely asking for (and sometimes desperate for) a nimble team who can hone strategic insights, and then produce stellar creative fast and at a reduced rate. Maybe WPP agencies do not encounter or desire these scrappy clients, but I do and so do thousands of marketing communications providers.
Talent Gathers Around Opportunity
A place where large, medium, and small can all agree is the need for dynamic networks. WPP buys new firms and BINGO, they have a wholly-owned network. The rest of us are deeply networked, as well, but our bonds are looser and more like the Hollywood production model, where creative teams come together to work intently on a project, then disband, then regather, as needed.
Could a small agency with less than 10 people collaborate with ‘Kong’? And by collaborate, I mean partner. I can see how both sides might benefit. What’s much more likely is a larger indie shop asks smaller indie shops to help them out with new business pitches, or to cover them where they need cover.
COVID-19 wiped the old way of doing things from the table. Now, it’s fair to ask if a new collective consciousness is rising and what each of us can do to help usher in a new day, where roaming bands of ‘creative outlaws’ Zoom in from points unknown. We, the ad people of the world, have always said ideas can come from anywhere. COVID-19 provided a space to prove it.
The need to gather is still real, but how often and in what kind of space will be for each firm to decide. Deconstructed teams are as lean as can be, but meeting on Zoom every day has its limits. For many of us, the limits have been reached. For others, the future of work is geographically untethered. Talent matters most and one generally needs to spend time in a talent factory to properly acquire it. But then what? Then it’s up to you.