Advertising WPP People on the Move

VMLY&R CEO Jon Cook: 'The world hasn’t seen something of this scale before'


By Bennett Bennett, Staff writer

October 9, 2018 | 4 min read

In September, WPP’s newly-minted chief executive Mark Read made the first of what is expected to be many restructuring decisions: pairing the storied Y&R advertising agency with Kansas City-born digital agency VML.

Jon Cook

VMLY&R's global chief Jon Cook talks about the merger and what may be to come for the WPP agency. / VMLY&R

The decision placed longtime VML chief exec Jon Cook in the top spot as the global head of what’s now known as VMLY&R. The Drum sat down with Cook on the merger, what it means for each agency and the relationship between him and Y&R mainstay David Sable.

“This industry needs to change,” Cook says when asked about his initial thoughts of the merger and his role in it. “There’s so many old-fashioned definitions of agency can be, or what can come together and this can break all the rules."

Reflecting on the many attempts by holding companies to merge traditional and digital offerings over the years, he claims: "The world hasn’t seen something of this scale before. VML and Y&R are generally the same size — this isn’t one swallowing the other.”

However, even as VML takes the first half of the new name, Cook considers it a perfect marriage, citing the existing synergy between brands, and the depth of the combined efforts creative, digital, and strategic services. “If you made a list of everything you need right now, we have everything right now in one place.”

Cook, who has worked for WPP since 2001, applauded the decision of Mark Read to have this move be his first since he took over as the top executive following Sir Martin Sorrell’s dismissal over the summer.

“I like Mark Read’s style of taking a moment and doing things in a careful, thoughtful way that makes sense," says Cook. “He makes decisions from a position of strength, and goes about things in a proactive manner.”

On the transitioning out of Y&R global chief David Sable, and what it might mean for their relationship, Cook called Sable ‘the biggest supporter’.

“There’s a lot of situations where one CEO feels removed by another... I’m sure it looks like that from the outside. But because of the friendship I have with David, I know he’s the biggest supporter of this: and he’ll tell you himself.”

Cook plans to take the rest of the year to figure out organizational structuring across the global network. Although the old VML has taken root in Kansas City since 1992, and Y&R's global HQ has been stationed on Columbus Circle for the past few years, he doesn't claim a single city as headquarters for the global agency.

So far, Debbie Vandeven is to fill the global role, as VMLY&R's chief creative. “She’s among the top creative leaders in the world,” he says of Vandeven.

Again, he notes that globally, the leadership is already balance.

“We don’t have the complete organizational plan set up," he says, "but it speaks to how balanced our leadership is, between Y&R vets and VML vets that we look to continue being the best agency in the world. That’s not hyperbole.”

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