How big a threat are deals like Coors’ Team WPP to agency independence and creative standards?

The latest news that Miller Coors has consolidated its $200m business in to ‘Team WPP’ throws up a number of questions that are likely to be talked about in the HQs of the global networks. The key one I would guess is: “Will more global clients follow suit?”

The obvious question for me is, if WPP has indeed committed to opening an office in Chicago with 200 staff, is this another version of a single agency or will it be staffed by all disciplines from across the group? I have no doubt Sir Martin Sorrell will make sure it will be managed in an exemplary way and will ensure both WPP and Coors review performance continuously.

The trick to pull off is getting different agency brands to play nicely with each other. The CEOs of each agency are under the cosh to deliver and when I was at Ogilvy I found internal back-stabbing going on, trying to snaffle income from one business to another. Maybe this has been cured by now. However I do know of one current example (I can’t name names out of confidentiality and not within WPP) with a large global name where the same antics go on between the agencies working with the same client. I know the client finds it tiresome and distracting.

The benefits for the client are pretty obvious, if it works. There is bound to be saving – economies of scale – plus the efficiency of everyone singing from the same hymn sheet. As more and more brands are working across different platforms and channels the need for genuine, seamless, joined-up communications is commercially vital. Also the added complication of multiple territories adds further pressure to get everything aligned.

I wonder, though, if Coors is going to mirror the structure within its own organisation. Local client management may not welcome the ‘command and control’ structure. I’ve found this to be a problem in the past where the Italian or French or German client is prima facie on board but in their own local way sabotage the instructions from the centre. National pride can often feel like the resistance movement in France during WW2.

Lou Gerstner (pictured) pulled this off with IBM with his approach of ‘one brand one voice’ where the global account was consolidated at Ogilvy & Mather. In his book Who said elephants can’t dance? he describes the internal challenges of aligning the worldwide organisation behind one direction. How he pulled this off is well worth a good read, very inspiring leadership.

I believe the leadership question becomes one of the big challenges on the agency side of things. It is important for the staff that they have their own defined culture and don’t feel like they are the in-house ad department for Coors. The words ‘dependent’ and ‘independent’ have powerful meaning in terms of the culture. If the leadership is weak then the agency tends to say ‘how high?’ when the client says ‘jump’. The main man or woman fronting such a venture needs to be strong, have clear principles and be prepared to tough it out from time to time with the CMO on the client side – hopefully based on mutual respect.

In the end the creative work either thrives or withers depending on the relationship.

Best of luck to all who sail in her.

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About Paul Simons

Paul joined Cadbury-Schweppes in brand management and then moved to United Biscuits. He switched to advertising in his late 20s, at Cogent Elliott and then Gold Greenlees Trott. He founded Simons Palmer Denton Clemmow & Johnson in the late 80s, one of the leading creative agencies of the 90s. Simons Palmer then merged with TBWA to create a top ten agency. Paul then joined O&M as chairman & CEO of the UK group. After three years he left to create a new AIM-quoted advertising group Cagney Plc. He is now a consultant to a number of client companies. Paul also shares his thoughts on his blog. Visit Paul Simons Blog.

One comment

  1. I think the biggest challenge facing the ‘Team WPP’ concept is that of corporate culture. How do you maintain the very thing that the client wants from you i.e. the individuality and creativity when he is the only one paying the bills? To have a generation of Account handlers and creatives growing up in a monoculture environment without being engulfed by the client culture is a difficult task to manage.