There goes another one. WPP was built on the back of four big agency acquisitions: JWT, Ogilvy, Y&R and Grey. Now Ogilvy is the only one left standing alone as Grey, which has had a torrid time recently, especially in the UK, is to be merged into Ajaz Ahmed’s digital network AKQA.
JWT is now part of Wunderman Thompson and Y&R of VML/Y&R, in both cases with the digital partner in the driving seat. Nerves must be fraying at Ogilvy – which we thought likely to take over Grey following such a deal in France – although finding a partner in the somewhat reduced WPP might be a problem.
The new AKQA Group will employ 6,000 people in more than 50 countries and handle some highly important clients including P&G and pharma giant GSK. WPP bought AKQA for £348m and, still under co-founder Ahmed, it has quietly got on with business, combining genuine creativity with its digital smarts.
Just a few years ago Grey was arguably the creative jewel in WPP’s crown. Under Jim Heekin and creative supremo Tor Myhren in the US and David Patton (EMEA boss) and Chris Hirst in the UK and high profile Nils Leonard in the creative saddle, it easily outshone its WPP peers.
But Heekin retired, Myhren joined Apple and Leonard and two key colleagues broke away to set up Uncommon Creative Studio. Hirst departed for Havas and Patton, after a brief spell running Y&R globally, joined production giant MPC.
If WPP CEO Mark Read wonders where it all went wrong at Grey, he doesn’t have far to look. It will be interesting to see what WPP founder and former CEO Sir Martin Sorrell, who bought all those agencies for billions of dollars, thinks about this.