WPP merges VMLY&R and Wunderman Thompson – VML now “biggest agency in the world”

Waves goodbye to $5bn Madison Avenue stalwarts

We’ve suggested often enough here that more WPP mergers are inevitably on the way but this one’s still a surprise: VMLY&R and Wunderman Thompson are the ones getting together, under the VML umbrella.

Which means goodbye to two of the most venerable names in advertising: Thompson as in J. Walter Thompson, founded back in the 19th century and direct marketing pioneer Wunderman, founded by Lester Wunderman.

The new entity, just VML, will be the world’s biggest creative company according to WPP, with 30,000 staff in 64 markets. It will be headed by VML founder Jon Cook as global CEO and the UK’s Mel Edwards from Wunderman Thompson as global president (both below.) A remarkable rise for a boy from Kansas City where VML (for now) still has its HQ.

Cook says: “The future of building strong brands and businesses requires the interconnectivity of brand experience, commerce and customer experiences. We recognised the immediate opportunity to create what every consultancy and advertising agency aspires to build with the formation of VML. We’re especially excited to present our new offering to the industry as we don’t believe there is another company as creatively awarded with our depth in customer experience and commerce.”

Edwards says: “This is the right suite of capabilities, offered at just the right moment, at unprecedented scale. It’s incredibly exciting because with this new agency we have the chance to shape the future of modern marketing in every key market around the world. The opportunities it affords our people and the growth we can deliver for our clients at a global scale make this a real game-changer for each business and the wider industry.”

WPP CEO Mark Read, a former boss of Wunderman, says: “Scale matters in today’s world as AI and technology transform marketing and global clients look to simplify their relationships. VML will combine world-class creativity with deep expertise in data, marketing technology and platforms to deliver competitive advantage for ambitious brands. It’s another important step forward for WPP as we continue to reshape our offer for the future, simplify our business and unlock further benefits of scale.”

We’ll see. 30,000 people is a lot to bring together (although they almost certainly all won’t be there when the new company becomes operational in January next year.) Read is betting the ranch on an agency driven by what WPP calls commerce (e-commerce as was.)

Does this bring WPP any closer to its ambition to be the “creative transformation” company? Losing what was left of two Madison Avenue stalwarts JWT and Y&R (which cost the old WPP nearly $5bn back in the day) means a radically different company to the one Read inherited from Sir Martin Sorrell.


  1. “Scale matters”… what a ridiculous quote from Mark.

    What he needed was to tip an accounting scale, and this is just the right imbalance to get another quarter or two of relief.

  2. It’s great to see the vanity advertising brands finally dissolved into a modern, digital-first media group. I guess 5 years was long enough for some people at the top to deal with their fragile egos, or leave for time in the garden.

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