Ford wants to improve the marketing output from its 450 local dealerships in the UK. That task used to fall on WPP when it managed the brand out of its dedicated Global Team Blue (GTB) division, but with a shake-up of its agency roster last year the car marque has spotted an opportunity to experiment with an in-house model.
The new blueprint relies on a recently launched consulting division of the Unlimited Group, Unlimited+, which also counts Sony and HSBC among its clients - as well as Unlimited's 'Prophecy' division which specialises in data and insights.
Following in the footsteps of the likes of Oliver, the spinoff will see Unlimited embed its agency staffers within client marketing departments. However, the group posits that it will retain a level of independence, meaning it will always act as ‘agency’ even within a client’s walls.
For Ford, this is the ideal model to support it plans for better dealer marketing. Although, it has been clear in that it doesn't want to invest in internal resource, Ford has hired a marketing manager in Nicola James to oversee the ‘agency’, with the end goal of wanting more transparency and oversight into the day-to-day running.
“We recognised that we needed to do more in the dealer marketing,” explained Ford Britain marketing director Mandy Dean.
“With in-house we saw the opportunity for greater transparency and efficiency. Our retail marketing needs to be an area that's fast to respond to changing conditions,” she explained. “If things change at a manufacturing level - we don't make commitments - then we need to change the retail messaging quickly and be really tactical.
"We saw the opportunity to move faster with an in-house agency.”
Uniformity and evolution
The Unlimited team within Ford will aim to do a couple of things.
Chiefly, it wants to bring some uniformity to the assets that its individual dealers are using online and offline – that’s everything from the kind of images they’re using in-store to banner ads and social media posts. For the latter, it has set up a digital “portal” which dealers are being asked to use as the first port of call for accessing any marketing material which can then be localised.
Dean said the reception among dealers has been strong as it’s the first time that an ad agency has taken on board what they need from the ground up, rather than working top down.
Secondly, the Unlimited team wants to help train people in Ford's 450+ UK dealerships on the most effective, and efficient, digital marketing techniques.
“The evolution of digital marketing is something some dealers are great at but some are quite small businesses that don't have a dedicated team so the capabilities within the dealer network as a whole are really varied,” continued Dean.
“We realised there was a job to do as a manufacturer to try and upskill the dealers and improve their capability in digital marketing.”
There are no plans from Ford to bring in more client-side resource. Depending on the project, time of year or a sudden change in market conditions, Unlimited’s pitch is that it can scale its own on-site team up or down accordingly.
“The client isn't paying for someone to sit around doing half the amount of work,” said Matt Steel, director at Unlimited. “Resource is being fully utilised in the Ford environment and [the agency] is benefitting from all the opportunities to sit together and be in the same conversations.”
It’s a step away from the ‘dedicated agency’ model that Ford had with WPP’s Global Team Blue – albeit at a much smaller scale. Last year, the car marque shifted its creative account to Omnicom with Weiden + Kennedy assigned as an innovation partner to special projects.
The Drum detailed that the relationship between the holding company and Ford had been fraying at the edges for some time, however WPP still retains media – which was not up for review.
One ex-agency staffer said there was a “mechanical, dictatorial, clinical if you like” way Ford’s that marketing team (AKA the “Fordies”) dictated GTB's processes in the Michigan headquarters.
For Dean's part, she didn’t go into detail about how the new set-up has been working in the UK, saying it was still “early days” and noting that GTB was finishing up a couple of projects that had been briefed prior to the account handover.
“It's really interesting time. We're just settling down and getting to know our new agency partners so it's way to early to have any view on it. There's a gradual transition to the new agency network that's just starting to gain momentum," she said.