Is Keith Cartwright’s launch deal with WPP’s Grey a new adland creative model?

Timing is (almost) everything in launching a start-up, often crises like Covid-19 create opportunities for some: James Murphy and David Golding’s New Commercial Arts in the UK for example – every agency looks as big as the next on Zoom.

High profile Keith Cartwright – formerly CCO at 72&Sunny LA – has set up an agency bearing his name (below) and, as you can see, Cartwright is black. Cartwright obviously laments the George Floyd tragedy (as do all of us with the odd troubling exception). But this, on top of the existing calls for more diversity at the top of agency land, won’t hurt the new agency’s chances of winning big brand business. It’s already working for P&G it seems.

The new Cartwright is being backed by WPP’s Grey, a big P&G agency of course. Cartwright says: “You have to be lean and move quickly. This model creates very high-touch leadership, including myself, where we work more directly with clients and their leadership to engage constantly.

“What slows things down in the industry is resourcing and process. But how do you do that in a way where you can still scale? Part of Cartwright’s uniqueness is our ability to lean into that network (Grey presumably) and the people there we trust. And then, we can adapt and move out when we don’t need those resources.” Sounds tricky to manage.

But it’s an interesting move by WPP, aside from the obvious P&G connection. Is it maybe an acknowledgement that the days of Madison Avenue creative behemoths may be ending and the holding company is better off with a partial stake in a different kind of creative outfit, leaving the data-driven heavy lifting to its media agencies? WPP also has such a stake in Johannes Leonardo which heads its US VW creative account.

Cartwright’s launch will prompt some other senior holding company execs to wonder if they can do the same. It will certainly be food for thought for the many who find themselves redundant in Covid-19.

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About Stephen Foster

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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.