VML takes top jobs in London following Y&R merger

It’s VML on top London-wise in the VLMY&R merger (as if the new name didn’t tell us so) with VML’s London MD Amanda Farmer in charge of the new entity with ECD Harsh Kapadia as ECD and Andy Ortner as head of strategy.

Y&R’s newish management team of CEO Paul Lawson, CCO Jon Birley and MD Katie Lee are considering their options. As is Y&R global president David Patton who’s lost out of the top job at Y&R globally to VML counterpart Eric Campbell.

If you’re going to do something like this it has to be radical and new WPP CEO Mark Read certainly has been. But you have to wonder about WPP’s powers of communication as Y&R London has recently been making a big hoo-ha about its plans, including hiring a new head of strategy from Iris just a week ago. Couldn’t someone at head office have told them?

But Y&R London has failed to fly since it made its expensive hirings and they seem to be paying the price for that, as has Patton. According to Campaign Y&R is about to lose its signature BBC account, which doesn’t leave much high profile business although it’s still an income earner.

Former Y&R CEO Jon Sharpe (below), displaced by Lawson who joined from Leo Burnett, is now ruling a rather larger roost as CEO of VMLY&R Europe. Tech-savvy Sharpe has done a good job at VML, helping to bring significant global business from Nestle and Baileys. Sharpe insists that creativity is just as important under the new regime.

Y&R London has been a big player on the UK scene for decades without occupying one of the top spots. It looked as though its buy of Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe would do the trick back in 1999 but then WPP bought it and things headed downhill. Up and coming James Murphy, David Golding and Ben Priest went off to set up adam&eve after a bitter court battle with then WPP CEO Sir Martin Sorrell and the agency never recovered.

Sorrell had visions of merging it with minority owned The&Partnership when it was pitching for biggest account Lloyds Bank (which went to A&E) but no-one at T&P seemed too keen. Sorrell is also thought to have mooted a VML/Y&R merger before he left.

The notion that such a mighty agency, one of the building blocks of Madison Avenue and significant in London, would be absorbed by a digital network which, although successful, few people had really heard of, is extraordinary. The biggest sign so far of the fabled tectonic plates in adland shifting.

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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.

4 comments

  1. Sounds like WPP is having its own Draft/FCB moment. Loading a brand that nobody’s heard of outside of its own couple of offices onto a famous international network.

    Good luck with that ….

  2. Shanghai61… The FCB – Draft merger was touted as creating the “Agency of the Future.” Yawn, fucking yawn. Apropos of nothing, my very first job in advertising was at Y&R London on Baker street, and my very first boss was Brian Palmer… Who?… Yeah, long before you were all born.

  3. George is right. The Mizzou hot shop might bring some lower-cost, digi-creds…but, without Obamacare feeding the health care space, not sure they have any growth left.

    This merger simply allows Read to drop an old world, irrelevant ad brand while getting rid of a LOAD of old world, irrelevant MDs and CDs moaning about shared desks and lost pencils at Columbus Circle. Seriously – Y&R hasn’t had a big moment since they hired Ann Fudge (the original diversity play) and we know how that ended. Poor Peter Stringham was never going to keep his former employer HSBC with their global powerhouse of airport jetways forever. Ok, so David Sable did bring back the Wunderman name, but then sat out the past few years micro-blogging about NYT ditties while Mark Read ticked the OpCo box and kept the big job.

    Let’s bet on what comes next: I’ll take Grey merging into Geometry, but they’ll call it a Black Box.

  4. Who?

    On the contrary, George, in the mid seventies I worked at Kingsley Manton & Palmer in Portland Place, opposite Broadcasting House. Sadly Palmer was gone by then – it was run by Len Heath, with Tony Bodinetz as CD.

    I fondly remember Len getting trapped in a malfunctioning lift the night before a pitch – with several breathless Account men running up and down the stairs trying to take instructions from him as he went up and down non-stop!

    It was a very large pitch that we won. The party in the basement conference room spilled so much champagne on the carpet that the underlying wooden parquet floor swelled up into a huge dome and had to be relaid. Those were the days!

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