‘It’s Wunderman before Thompson in the name to make it look ready for the new era’

In a chat with exchange4media, Mel Edwards, Global Chief Executive Officer, Wunderman Thompson, talks about the blending of the two big brands and more 

e4m by Neeta Nair
Updated: Jun 20, 2019 8:34 AM

It was one of the most talked about internal consolidations within the WPP Group, one which sent shockwaves across the world because it abruptly called for an end to the standalone brand JWT, the world’s oldest advertising agency, which was joining a much younger digital network. 


More than six months later, exchange4media talks to Mel Edwards, Global Chief Executive Officer, Wunderman Thompson, at Cannes Lions 2019 about why she thinks blending the two big brands made perfect sense. 


It was a huge decision by WPP to merge a cult advertising brand like JWT with a digital shop like Wunderman …how has an internal consolidation of this kind helped the network?

The reason why we did it was because our clients were asking for simplicity. Clients when they look at WPP often say, ‘Why do you need all of those separate agencies?’ Wunderman and J Walter Thompson were about the same size, revenue wise, people wise. So, it wasn’t like a big agency and a small one were coming together, which would have felt like a takeover. This instead was very balanced. So, therefore, from a people perspective I think it is a merger, and a merger at that to create a new agency rather than a Wunderman or a JWT taking over the other.


However, it was surprising when the word Wunderman came before Thompson which represents the world’s oldest agency… it almost sent out a message that vintage agency brands are no more as attractive or relevant as digital shops? 

No, I think they are absolutely relevant and attractive. And we thought about lots of different ways to create the name and the brand. Yes, JWT was a well-respected brand of 150 years, thus there was huge sentiment around it. I think we talked about it being Wunderman JWT, we talked about it being JWT Wunderman too. And in the end we got two actual names rather than an abbreviation because internally most people talk about JWT as Thompson. So, it felt very human to keep the Thompson brand. The decision to keep Wunderman before Thompson, however, was because we wanted it to look and feel like it was ready for the new era rather than the old. But, what we didn’t do is scrap brand JWT at all, or indeed the Wunderman.


After the consolidation what are the big clients Wunderman Thompson has won?

What we are trying to do is not chase new clients, because of the amount of clients we already have through Wunderman and JWT individually. And the opportunity is actually kind of great. So, the focus is really to double down on the business because it’s far more cost-effective, and better for us as a business to drive organic growth from my clients rather than getting new ones. But, we have had some pitch wins. We won Duracell, and thus are the global agency on record for Duracell from a brand advertising perspective, which is fantastic. And then we have won bigger bits of business within markets. We won Spirit Airlines in North America. In the UK, we have just pitched and won the brand advertising account of BT & EE, which again I guess was an existing client of Wunderman’s in the UK. It is quite nice, because actually what we are winning is not just data, technology, commerce pieces of business, we are actually winning from a brand advertising perspective, which is lovely. 

WPP has sort of taken a hit in the North American markets…. As per the Q1 2019 results, WPP’s sales fell 8.5 per cent there where they lost clients like Ford. How has the market been specifically for Wunderman Thompson? There clearly have been two rounds of layoffs in New York. 

It has definitely been tough for us in North America, we actually can’t lie about it but what Shane Atchison, our new regional CEO is doing now is pick up business daily and the reason for that is the fact that he is creating a culture of learning and growth and people obviously want to be part of the winning team. In fact, the reason we wanted Atchison to lead North America was because of his strength, not only with understanding how we could do an integration but actually also because he is really good at building culture. And, of course, because he is a strong entrepreneur. 

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