Is WPP’s VMLY&R merger part of a trend or a one-off marriage of convenience?

We’ve been saying for years that creative agency brands will be culled although not many people expected Y&R to be subsumed so brutally into WPP’s digital network VML – to create new agency VMLY&R.

Other WPP brands are rumoured to be heading for the same fate: JWT with Wunderman (although Wunderman appears to be operating across the piece), Grey with US-based digital and shopper agency Geometry and Ogilvy. Ogilvy is dealing with its own controversial “transformation” so is probably best left alone.

Publicis Groupe has achieved some of this already: it has still has its agency brands – Publicis Worldwide, BBH, Leo Burnett and Saatchi & Saatchi – but they come under Publicis Communications and, in the UK, new country manager Annette King and her team (with a strong “old” Ogilvy influence) are clearly calling the shots.

Ad Contrarian Bob Hoffman thinks all this is bonkers, by the way, but it’s probably too late to put the genie back in the bottle.

Omnicom and Interpublic are more old world and agency brands like Omnicom’s BBDO and IPG’s McCann are massive in their own right and aren’t going anywhere soon. It’s interesting that the holding companies haven’t bitten the bullet by appointing country managers in the US, that’s still confined to the “too difficult” drawer with possible wars of independence on the menu if they got it wrong. WPP and Publicis are run from London and Paris, of course.

Does it actually make any difference to what agencies do? VMLY&R’s Europe CEO Jon Sharpe, who briefly ran Y&R in London, has been careful to emphasise creativity in all his public utterances. In this new world VMLY&R includes Y&R as was but with VML’s smarts (or the other way round, take your pick). As adam&eveDDB’s James Murphy acknowledged in a recent comment, VML won as many Lions (21) as A&E did at Cannes this year.

Will WPP’s Read go further? He’s said that creative agencies are under business pressure in the US particularly, so a big item on his agenda will be to cut costs. When clients cut back so do agencies. Instanced here in the Mad Men era by the immortal Roger Sterling (his comments on clients come near the end of ten minutes of Martini-imbibing. “This would be the best job in the world,” he says, “if it wasn’t for clients” and, when Sterling Cooper loses an account, “Let’s go and fire someone.”

Wunderman is slated for a partnership/merger with JWT but Wunderman may be too big and crucial to WPP’s fortunes – especially through its Amazon specialist Wunderman Commerce – to be parked with one creative agency. In any case JWT has its own Mirum network of digital agencies, originally a hotchpotch of companies Sir Martin Sorrell had picked up along the way, which it now reckons is providing the required digital expertise.

Read has started though, so he may as well finish. Publicis’ tiered ‘Power of One’ system, although easy to mock, may be the more elegant solution.

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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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