Paul Simons: is data grail driving WPP’s shotgun marriages?

The merging of two entities such as Wunderman and JWT is causing disruption in the industry with, like Brexit, those in support and those who think it is all madness. The long held opinion is the two cultures do not mix comfortably and they are at their best paddling their own canoes.

As a senior management consultant pointed out to me there is no such thing as a merger, only takeovers. On a personal level I can confirm my own experiences would completely agree with this view.

This suggests Y&R (also merged, into VML) and JWT will experience a seismic shift in many aspects of their organisations and WPP must believe the outcome will be 1+1=3 for their business. 2019 will be very interesting as the impact of these changes cascade through the current global networks. Ogilvy is experiencing the same/similar developments internally with the collapse of the silos built with care over the previous 20 years or so; their fallout of top talent has been like a military coup. Same at Y&R. Next JWT?

The winners appear to be the non-advertising agency teams at Y&R, Ogilvy and JWT based on the roles of the two top ladies. (Grey being conspicuous by its absence, so far.)

It is most sensible to look down the other end of the telescope and discover what clients need and want these days. As a senior member of Chiat/Day once said: “Find out what a client wants, then find out what they need, then get them to want what they need”. Great advice and particularly appropriate where ‘brave’ work is being proposed.

When you cut out all the jargon and bullshit in 90%+ of cases clients are seeking improvements in their business; I have never met a client for the first time who has said their goal is to sell less. The question therefore is ‘what is the best approach to achieve their goals?’ Pre-internet days #1 answer was broadcast advertising, the more admired and talked about the better. The heroes in our world were the one’s giving the public inspiring ideas such as the Smash Martians, Audi, Orange, Virgin Atlantic, Nike and more latterly John Lewis.

The advice to clients often has been “adopt outside-in thinking,” not the other way round, meaning discover what the market wants and provide it. It sounds like WPP has been doing just that and is reacting to that insight. The danger is knowing the difference between tactics and strategy; most marketing staff are working on tactics so may not be a good steer on overall brand strategy. This begs the question who exactly is the helicopter brand custodian in a client organisation?

Peter Simpson, the marketing pioneer behind First Direct, once said to me: “As a client, if you know what you want it is relatively easy to find a relevant provider, however if you don’t know what you want it is very difficult”. My guess is this point lies at the heart of current turbulence in the wider world of advertising because many clients and agencies are stumbling around pursuing the holy grail of data.

It is today’s ‘gold rush’, tomorrow’s routine tool in the armoury of marketing. Once everyone knows how to dissect and digest the mountain of available information via their bit of universally available software kit, data will join the tool cupboard along with direct marketing, shopper marketing, design, media, CRM, et al and, of course, advertising.

What happens then? The disciplines de-couple again and adopt a purist view of their respective magic wands?

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About Paul Simons

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Paul joined Cadbury-Schweppes in brand management and then moved to United Biscuits. He switched to advertising in his late 20s, at Cogent Elliott and then Gold Greenlees Trott. He founded Simons Palmer Denton Clemmow & Johnson in the late 80s, one of the leading creative agencies of the 90s. Simons Palmer then merged with TBWA to create a top ten agency. Paul then joined O&M as chairman & CEO of the UK group. After three years he left to create a new AIM-quoted advertising group Cagney Plc. He is now a consultant to a number of client companies. Paul also shares his thoughts on his blog. Visit Paul Simons Blog.
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