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WPP GTB boss Satish Korde exits but will continue to consult on Ford

Korde has led the purpose-built agency since it was formed in 2006 / WPP

The chief executive of WPP’s Global Team Blue (GTB), Satish Korde, has stepped down from the top job to take up a strategic advisory remit for flagship client, Ford. He will not be employed by Ford, but act as 'chairman emeritus' of GTB.

Korde has led the purpose-built agency since 2011, overseeing its rebrand from Team Detroit in 2016. As chairman emeritus he will assist Ford on special marketing and communications-based projects.

Digitas’ former executive vice-president for the US, Robert Guay, will now fill the top job at GTB. Guay brings his own experience in the automotive field, having previously worked on the General Motors and Cadillac accounts.

Korde's departure comes less than one year after Ford announced plans to splinter its $800m creative business between several shops, moving away from the dedicated model GTB had built.

At the time of writing, neither Ford or Digitas had issued statements on the reshuffle.

WPP said Guay would report to Read and lead GTB's "evolution" as well as its relationship with Ford and the small pool of other clients it serves.

"Ford Motor Company is our biggest client worldwide, with GTB at the heart of an integrated-service model that brings together the talent and capabilities of WPP companies across the full marketing spectrum," said Read.

"Robert’s leadership credentials, automotive experience and understanding of the role of technology in marketing will ensure that Ford continues to benefit from the very best of WPP as we reshape our offer around its needs."

A time of flux for GTB and Ford

While he's not departing for a permanent role at Ford, as had been speculated, Korde will now face the challenge of advising Ford from the client perspective, working with Guay's team to extract the most value out of the automotive giant's $4bn global ad spend.

The one-time GTB boss is also handing over the reins to Guay at a time when both businesses are adjusting to their own internal shifts.

Just eight months ago, Ford completed an extensive review of its advertising business and ended its longstanding exclusive relationship with GTB in favour of a “multi-agency” proposition.

In its RFP, it was reported Ford specifically called on GTB to address its “culture” which executives didn’t think has been conducive to producing world-class creative.

The Drum understands attempts to retain the entirety of the business had seen WPP pitch a more ‘open source’ solution that would have given the brand access to greater resources within the wider WPP network, not just GTB.

Despite GTB’s efforts to convince the carmaker it was still the best (and only) group to handle creative, Ford named Omnicom’s BBDO as lead agency with Wieden+Kennedy assigned as an innovation partner to special projects.

GTB retained media planning and buying (which was never up for grabs) and shopper and performance marketing, as well as website development, customer relationship marketing, multicultural and tier-two dealer advertising.

In a memo to staff, written after the decision was announced last year, Korde reacted with disappointment to the outcome of the pitch and sought to reassure the agency’s then-3,000 people, across six continents in 84 markets about the changes.

“As you all know, we gave this review everything we had: it was an extraordinary effort by the entire global team over many, many months. We accept this difficult decision with our heads held high and thank everyone for their contributions," he wrote.

In December 2018, it was revealed that GTB would lay off 2% of its global staff, with the agency’s creative, strategy and production departments among those affected by the first round of cuts across the US, Canada and Latin America.

One month later, WPP opened VMLY&R’s first office in Detroit, Michigan, bringing with it a raft of GTB execs to staff the Ford account outpost.

Tim Reisen, previously chief experience officer for GTB in its Dearborn headquarters, was named as chief executive of VMLY&R Detroit and joined in the new space by Aleksandr Niestroj, previously GTB's managing partner and executive director for global experience strategy, as well as “many members of his team”.

The shuffle hinted at where the future of GTB as a standalone agency lies following the outcome of the contentious review.

In May, Ford announced it was undergoing a “redesign” of its own workforce, resulting in redundancies within the auto brand’s marketing team.

The brand wants to scrap 7,000 of its salaried roles by August in an extensive round of global layoffs that will eliminate 10% of its white-collar staff.

In the UK, the car marque has been looking to improve the marketing output from its 450 local dealerships (a task that used to fall to GTB) in the UK via an in-house model.

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