RIP JWT: digital on top again as Wunderman trumps JWT in latest WPP merger

WPP CEO Mark Read is continuing his radical clean up of the group by merging J Walter Thompson with Wunderman, the digital agency where he was global CEO for nearly four years.

JWT’s obituary was written a while ago, and it was only a matter of time before the 122 year-old ad agency – which has been blighted by sexual harrassment claims, the worst gender pay gap in the UK industry, and a poor performance all round – was put out of its misery.

The formation of Wunderman Thompson, like Y&R’s recent merger with VML, (and the mergers of Maxus and MEC to form Wavemaker, and five design agencies to form Superunion) is supposed to be about simplifying WPP’s structure and making it more accessible to clients.

This is great for established global marketers like Procter & Gamble and Unilever (and now VW in North America), which work with WPP on a grand scale, and make up the bulk of its income. But it does risk turning WPP’s agency propositions into one amorphous mass that local clients might have trouble telling apart.

As if to prove a point, WPP’s press releases for the mergers of Wunderman and JWT, and VML and Y&R, use very similar language. Wunderman Thompson will “unite to form a creative, data and technology agency built to inspire growth for its clients.” In September, VMLY&R was set to “deliver a contemporary, fully integrated digital and creative offering to clients on a global scale.”

In an old-fashioned way, it will be the personality and talents of Mel Edwards, CEO of Wunderman Thompson (and formerly CEO of Wunderman) that will help the new agency stand out from the competition, much more than its digital or creative capabilities.

Edwards retains the CEO title at Wunderman Thompson, ahead of Tamara Ingram, who was global CEO of JWT and is chairman of the new agency. The pair look very happy in WPP’s official photo, which is unfortunately reminiscent of David Cameron and Nick Clegg’s banterous 2014 rose garden love-in. Either way, it’s great to see two women – and two Brits – at the top.

Edwards said: “To achieve transformative outcomes clients today need inspiration that is rooted in data-driven insight. I’m really excited to be able to deliver that within one agency. Wunderman Thompson offers precisely what clients want: brilliant creativity, expertise in data and sophisticated technology skills. I couldn’t be more honoured to lead this new organization and its exceptional people.”

Ingram said: “Both JWT and Wunderman have been built by the commitment of many talented people, whose combined capabilities will further distinguish us in the market… As Wunderman Thompson we will deliver… work that is more meaningful and more impactful than ever.”

The new Wunderman Thompson will be “fully operational” in early 2019, and Read will be hoping that the merger helps WPP’s share price to recover next year. There is no mention yet of staff cuts, but many of the 20,000 combined staff will be having a nervous Christmas, and will enter the new year with some trepidation.

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About Emma Hall

Emma Hall
Emma Hall is the former London Editor of Ad Age, where she covered European marketing advertising, digital and media stories. She has written for newspapers including the Financial Times, The Guardian, The Times and the Telegraph, and was previously a section editor at Campaign. Emma started her career in New York as a researcher for a biography of Keith Richards.

One comment

  1. Great article, thanks! It’ll be interesting to see if the merger can bring the best of both agencies in to a new global powerhouse.

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