Turmoil at Ford means more to worry about for WPP

The mighty Ford Motor Company seems in some disarray these days with its profits falling, shares tanking and its perceived failure (rightly or wrongly) to spell out where its driverless cars initiative is headed (don’t say the side of the road).

There also appear to be personnel issues and now the head of its North American operations Raj Nair has resigned over this year’s description of the moment “inappropriate behaviour.”

Hitherto it’s been agency execs who’ve grabbed the headlines for this – you could set up a pretty formidable agency with some of the talents who’ve been ousted – now it seems to be client-side. Nair was also chief technology officer at Ford during his 30 year career with the company.

Ford is also reviewing its relationship with WPP’s GTB (Global Team Blue), the latest manifestation of a long-running relationship that began with J. Walter Thompson. As far as we know this is a matter between Ford and WPP, not involving other agency groups, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if they became involved at some stage.

One person moving up following Nair’s departure is Kumar Galhotra, Ford’s CMO and head of the luxury Lincoln brand, which is, presumably, good news for WPP. As well as GTB WPP also runs the newish Hudson Rouge, a bespoke Lincoln agency.

But when such turmoil occurs at a big client it’s rarely good new for the agency. When people are under pressure to do something – anything – then often they change the agency. Rivals are brilliant at painting an attractive picture that seems to make problems go away.

Ford, like its other volume rivals, has suffered from an over-reliance on trucks and a car range that looks less exciting to buyers who now find they can afford an entry-level Audi, BMW or Mercedes. Added to this is the vast cost of competing in electric vehicles – where everyone seems to be having a go including the UK’s James Dyson – and driverless cars.

Ultimately all of this, including the relationship with WPP, falls into the lap of CEO Jim Hackett, who took over recently from long-serving Mark Fields (also a long-time WPP client, first at its luxury division which included Land Rover and, bizarrely, Volvo.)

“It’s that Sir Martin Sorrell on the phone again Mr Hackett.”

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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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