I recently wrote about SAP consolidating its marketing and communications duties with WPP — on the PR side under Sabrina Guttman and on the brand side under Spencer Osborne.
SAP follows Dell, Ford, HSBC and Roche in consolidating behind a Team WPP model that allows a client to assemble its own “dream team” across disciplines within a holding company. At a time when independents are lapping the holding company agencies on growth, this is the core selling proposition that holding companies ultimately hold.
WPP CEO Martin Sorrell has said this “horizontality” is the way forward (along with new fast-growth markets and data investments). “[It might] sound a bit clunky, but essentially it means getting our 165,000 people in 110 countries to work together even more effectively for our clients,” he noted last year in a blog post on LinkedIn’s influencer network.
When Publicis and Omnicom announced their merger last year, Sorrell further reiterated that rather than gobble up smaller holding companies, WPP’s plan was taking this customized approach to clients enticing them to share their marketing load across the holding company.
This is playing out with the various Team WPP models. With Team SAP, for instance, on the PR side the team is comprised of talent from Burson-Marsteller, its boutique North of Nine and PPR. But dedicating resources across the holding company in service of a single client has a faint echo towards the failed WPP-led endeavor Enfatico. And it’s worth pointing out that WPP has been working on this type of model for a decade now, and it seems to be paying off, regardless of the Enfatico failure.
Of course, unlike the ill-fated Enfatico, WPP isn’t building a new agency from the ground-up with a single anchor client. But, according to sources familiar with both Enfatico and now within the Team WPP approach, another key difference is the model. The Team WPP model has been cautious about putting the brand story at the center of its approach and having the various channels shoot off this, whereas, Enfatico was infamously siloed with disciplines leading the effort. Not to rehash every failure that befell Enfatico, but there was also the challenge of building a true agency culture around a single client. The Team WPP model draws upon agencies generally with well-defined and established cultures that are trickled down from the larger holding company.
Moreover, Enfatico also suffered because many of the people on Dell’s side who pushed for the model left during its execution. And it’s understood gaining buy-in beyond the marketing sphere was challenging. Losing internal client support is something that even with other safeguards, the Team WPP model must be mindful of. After all, SAP has moved to consolidating its work with WPP after decentralizing its PR model just three years earlier. It’s understood with Team WPP, there’s a greater effort to secure buy-in from beyond the marketing team.
But for PR, isn’t there a danger of being relegated to just media relations in this model? To be honest, I didn’t get a satisfactory answer to how this trap was being sidestepped. My sources say the team heads across discipline talk and collaborate frequently — and also educate the other disciplines on PR’s contributions beyond media relations. And that it helps when the Team WPP structure is applied to tech companies that rely on PR to distill their complicated messages into repeatable stories, well beyond taglines.
But these same sources are also quick to say it’s still a work in progress.