$4.5bn Dell loss could mean the end for Sir Martin Sorrell’s team WPP strategy

Computer giant Dell is reviewing its account at WPP following the closure of Enfatico, the Dell-only agency WPP CEO Sir Martin Sorrell set up to handle the $4.5bn business, and the subsequent rerouting of it into various WPP agencies including Y&R and PR outfit Cohn & Wolfe.

WPP set up Enfatico a couple of years ago, promising a thousand-strong unit at the heart of Madison Avenue. But the credit crunch struck and the deal rapidly unravelled. Enfatico’s business was then shunted around various WPP agencies.

Now Dell is reviewing its numerous accounts although it’s still professing loyalty to WPP.

WPP boss Sir Martin Sorrell’s big idea has always been that, as it’s the world’s biggest marcoms group, it can create bespoke teams to handle the world’s biggest clients. All you do is wheel in your best creatives from, say, JWT, and the PR wizards from Burson-Marsteller and the best brains from MediaCom and it’s off to the races.

And just to reassure the client you put them all in the same building and call them something else, like Enfatico.

But it just doesn’t work. Executives in WPP’s numerous offices don’t work for WPP. They work for JWT or O&M or Hill & Knowlton or MediaEdge. They answer to Sorrell and WPP in financial terms but that’s not commitment, it’s duty.

And so clients who’ve been persuaded into this highly logical notion, the best people from the biggest marcoms network, rapidly become disenchanted with the delivery.

Of all the clients who’ve bought this notion giant bank HSBC is still more or less onside although there are rumours that it’s looking around too, starting with the below-the-line business. Samsung bought it for a while and then scrapped the deal. Same with Vodafone.

So very few of Sorrell’s ‘team WPP’ initiatives have paid off. He’ll be baffled by it because he believes you can apply business logic, bigger means more resources and talent, to creative businesses.

His failure to do so doesn’t mean that you can’t do that but it does mean you need to get a lot more buy-in from the individuals concerned than WPP has managed to date.

One of Enfatico’s problems was that no-one wanted to work for it. Sorrell would have been bemused by this. Few other people would have been surprised.

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.