WPP Launches VMLY&R To Create Connected Brands

One month on the job, WPP CEO Mark Read is making big changes at the holding company.

WPP will combine digital agency VML and 100-year-old ad agency Young & Rubicam into a new agency named VMLY&R, the group announced Wednesday.

WPP tapped Jon Cook, VML’s CEO since 2011, to lead the company and its 7,000 employees in every major global market. Y&R CEO David Sable will support the agency as nonexecutive chairman while he moves into another role at WPP.

Combining the two agencies will modernize Y&R’s storied creative capabilities with VML’s understanding of data, technology and digital to create brands that reach consumers across all channels.

“It’s a new and exciting time at WPP, and we don’t take it for granted,” Cook said. “We’re entering some unchartered territory in terms of what an agency can be.”

While merging two scaled companies will be a huge undertaking, VML and Y&R have a long history of working together on shared clients such as Colgate-Palmolive, Microsoft, Office Depot and Dannon. The two firms operate in many of the same buildings around the world and are familiar with each other’s staffs. And Cook and Sable have worked together for more than 20 years.

“Since early in VML’s history in WPP, we’ve had a lot of alignment with Y&R,” Cook said. “We’ve always had great collaboration.”

Cook spoke with AdExchanger.

AdExchanger: Why did WPP merge VML And Y&R?

JON COOK: One of the biggest priorities we have is creating a much simpler, more powerful and more complete offering at WPP. There was an opportunity to put together a capability that hasn’t been put together at this scale before. Big ad agencies have acquired smaller digital companies, and big digital companies have come together, like SapientRazorfish, but there’s never been a digital and ad agency of equal size [come together].

What will the combined entity offer clients that the two agencies couldn’t provide separately? 

The dream is to create the most connected consumer experiences and brands. Both companies, as strong as they were, were incomplete in delivering that around the word. VML comes at things from a brand experience standpoint and Y&R has a history in brand building. To create a truly connected brand, you have to have both those skill sets.

What challenges will you face in merging the two different cultures?

These two companies have had a great history for over a decade with a lot of shared clients, relationships and friendships. We have a head start on a lot of things other companies struggle with, like chemistry and working together.

The key is creating a context for talent to be at their best. With Y&R, I especially appreciate having that depth of brand strategy. Merging that with a digitally minded company that knows how to create branded experiences is what I’m most excited about.

How will you measure success? 

The reason we do any of this is for clients. My ultimate measurement will be that our clients appreciate that we’re making choices to be more relevant. We’re going to work tirelessly to be the best agency in the world. You have to have a certain amount of scale and capability to achieve that. Client satisfaction is everything to me.

Mark [Read] is a huge believer that to be a powerful agency, you have to be able to harness creativity, data and technology. He and I both agree that having those three things is half the battle. The measurement of success is how we are able to put those things together for clients in a meaningful way around the world. That’s a standard of excellence Mark is holding me and this whole company to.

What’s the timeline for bringing things together?

We’re under no illusion that everything is perfect on day one. As well as VML and Y&R know each other, we’re nowhere near where we want to be. I’m going to use the fall to make some thoughtful decisions about what the team needs. And I have a focus of putting the pieces together by January.

VML has gone from 30 to 3,000 people in relatively short order. I’ve learned that the timeline you need to go on is the timeline that makes sense for your company. There’s no handbook.

What will it look like when everything comes together? 

We’re trying to build a company that can create connected brands. These are flowery, idealistic words, but they have a lot of meat behind them. To be a brand like that, you have to have a certain depth of channel and skill to operate across all spectrums. It’s not just a buzzword for me. It’s a truly operational plan that we have to work together in harmony.

What will change for clients?

We’re very measured about that. I’m in no rush to overserve in an irrelevant way. I get hyper-annoyed about the agency that oversells or acquires a capability and tries to force it down their clients’ throats. We have to be the opposite of that. We have a tremendous amount for capability and perspective. Let’s be prepared to unleash that weaponry only when it’s relevant and natural, with clients we have relationships with and trust.

That said, all of our clients want more diversity and depth of talent. This gives us a chance to do that.

How much will Y&R’s creative approach change now that it’s merged with VML?

It goes back to this process we have for creating connected brands, understanding the consumer journey and where and when somebody experiences brands. We’re going to have a huge premium on creative and strategy. It’s going to be systematic in how we think about that.

How do you plan to manage 7,000 people?

Trust my instincts, trust my amazing teammates and the people around me. And ask questions about what’s next. That formula has worked for a long time, and I don't see moving away from that.

This interview has been edited.

 

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