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JWT becomes J. Walter Thompson again as Sorrell goof lets the name change cat out of the bag

WPP boss Sir Martin Sorrell is global adland’s version of ‘Chatty Man,’ the name of Alan Carr’s chat show on British TV (it’s probably only a matter of time before SMS gets his too, he practically took over Adweek in London recently).

Anyway Sorrell was addressing a breakfast hosted by the Wall Street journal earlier this week when he let slip, in response to a question about WPP’s ad agencies, that JWT (which it became in 2005) was reverting to J. Walter Thompson, its ancient moniker.

9862707f-3f96-4fd7-bd03-29f55ac516c5-person_image-mainThis was later confirmed by outgoing JWT CEO Bob Jeffrey with his usual good humour (but through clenched teeth no doubt) although it scuppered plans to reveal the ‘new’ name to celebrate the agency’s 150th anniversary later this year. The agency was founded by a bloke called Carlton in 1864 and bought shortly afterwards by J. Walter (left), also known as ‘The Commodore,’ a pretty shady character even by early adland standards.

Will the move help restore JWT to its former glories? The agency was Sorrell’s first big purchase when he began to grow WPP and he seems to have a soft spot for it still. He’s always putting it forward for big UK retail accounts although it never wins them. He even appeared in person at the agency’s pitch for Tesco although, apparently, he talked a bit too much.

But JWT, like other big WPP agencies, has suffered as the holding company has become the centre of attention, often by assembling bespoke client teams from the various agencies to contest the biggest pitches. Ogilvy has avoided this fate rather more successfully, chiefly due to the efforts of its wily boss Miles Young.

Interpublic’s Draftfcb, the result of a merger between direct marketing agency Draft and old Madison Avenue stalwart Foote Cone and Belding recently announced its intention to revert to the latter name, although everyone will call it FCB.

Why did J. Walter Thompson become JWT in the first place? At the time its US HQ seemed to be populated by a fair number of loonies who, according to my friend George Parker, announced they were no longer adfolk but ‘cultural anthropologists.’ This is pretty daft, even for an industry that’s given us Kevin Roberts’ ‘Lovemarks.’

Maybe JWT, as the revived J. Walter Thompson, can revert to the simple virtues espoused by ‘The Commodore’: get the ads out (more or less) on time and mark up the bill as much as you can.

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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.
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