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'We can't just put Wunderman Thompson above the door': why culture will be key for WPP's newest agency


By Shawn Lim | Reporter, Asia Pacific

January 30, 2019 | 6 min read

Wunderman Thompson chief executive Mel Edwards and incoming chairman Tamara Ingram know that the nurturing the culture of their newly formed agency is vital to its future success and are set to launch a new identity on Monday (4 February) as the latest element of the integration of the two businesses.

As part of their strategy, the duo has set out four new behaviors for staff to follow in a bid to keep the culture vibrant and they have introduced 'collision', a methodology they believe will ensure that culture thrives as it aims to deliver success for clients.

The pair is speaking to The Drum while visiting Singapore, where they are unpacking and explaining to both JWT and Wunderman staff and clients in there what Wunderman Thompson means for them. The visit comes ahead of revealing the agency's brand identity, which will symbolize a new look and feel, a new logo to promote the new agency's credentials and its positioning as a creative data technology agency that inspires growth.

While Edwards conceded the new culture has not yet been felt because both agencies are not yet 'sitting together', she is hopeful that when staff from both agencies come together physically, they will create a successful culture which clients can automatically feel when they walk into the agency.

The new methodology will come into effect for the team when working with clients, explains Edwards, which she believes is a more agile way of bringing different teams with different skills to the brief at the beginning, rather than coming in at the planning stage. She goes on to explain that the teams will take responsibility in opening those briefs right from beginning to the end, and will help the client make sense of the work from a culture perspective.

“Bringing our two cultures together, we are creating and launching new behaviors. We have four key behaviors that we are talking about in terms of what we want our people to follow, which is how we want our teams to work, behave, as ourselves on a daily basis. We also have that translate for our clients as well. That is why culture is key,” explains Edwards.

“We need to look at what the culture is that those brands, or pieces of work, or communication, or commerce platforms need in order to sit with them, like looking at audiences, their behaviors and thinking about the brand. We are bringing all of that together and saying, "okay what are we bringing from JWT into that methodology, to make it more robust for the new company that we're delivering."

Ingram adds that the new agency will give JWT access to external data on consumer behavior performances, which it previously did not own. “When you think about any brand, most of them need to have great insights, and they get that not only from human insights but data. And that data tells them about behavior performance.”

She continues: "We already had the insights at JWT and now with the data from Wunderman, we can give brands the whole customer experience and make use of JWT’s storytelling to bring that to life.”

Having previously told The Drum the merger is “definitely not a cost-cutting exercise" because the move will see a lot of synergy between the clients of both businesses and was very much the idea of WPP chief executive Mark Read, Edwards reiterates that the reason they have followed through with the merger is because they can see the need for simplicity for its clients.

“When we sat together in New York in November and looked at our client list of the top 20 to 30 clients, there was a huge lump of overlap. That says something doesn't it?” asks Edwards. That is why it made sense to come together and provide simplicity to it.”

“So, what would that end-to-end offer be for those clients, rather than Wunderman working on those clients, and JWT working on those clients? From Monday, it will feel like a natural fit to support one another and go to market with Wunderman Thompson rather than Wunderman and JWT separately.”

While both Edwards and Ingram are keen to hit the ground running, what keeps them up at night is that they now have the responsibility of overseeing 20,000 people and being responsible for their livelihoods.

“It doesn't always keep me up because we are confident that what we are doing is the right thing. It is more about making sure we can do everything but keeping things simple. What I mean by that is I can do 10 things today and run very quickly because we have got this opportunity ahead of us, but what we need to do is take people on that journey,” explains Edwards.

“So now, I am conscious that I need to step back a little bit and make sure that we just do three things, with one of those being a successful integration. That means being respectful on both sides, it means listening and understanding how we complement one another. I think a good successful integration is actually looking at how many people we've retained on both sides by the end of the year, rather than what cost you've taken out of business.

“We cannot do this just by putting Wunderman Thompson above the door at JWT without bringing the Wunderman team and their capabilities to it, and vice versa. And I think that for me, one of the key areas for us as a business is a successful integration this year.”

Building and ensuring growth for Wunderman Thompson meanwhile, keeps Ingram up at night she admits, as she says she is constantly thinking about how to help clients grow and how to do that well. She adds that expressing unbound creativity through the best customer experience, the best ideas, or the best breaking convention with the agency’s insights is another concern.

“And really making sure that we don't lose sight of the business of the business, as Mel and I actually love the business of the business,” Ingram explains.

The new Wunderman Thompson marque will be released this coming Monday and follows the recent rebrand of parent company WPP as it aims to evoke a fresh start under new chief executive Reid.

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