Brand WPP

Adweek reports today that a team from WPP has landed creative duties for Mazda North America, besting three esteemed ad agencies including “Omnicom Group’s DDB in Los Angeles (with sister shop Organic), MDC Partners’ Crispin Porter + Bogusky in Miami and Boulder, Colo. and the incumbent, independent Doner in Southfield, Mich.”

In all honesty, I was not surprised to read the news in Adweek, one of the main advertising trade outlets that prizes above all else breaking agency news of client wins and losses. What did surprise me was the reported name of the winner – a non-specific “team” of agencies from the “WPP Group” – the ad/marketing/PR holding company under whose aegis some of the most venerable ad agency brands reside, e.g, Ogilvy, Y&R, JWT, Grey…

This story brought back a couple of memories. The first involved our PR work to open Mazda’s Flat Rock plant, which, in 1987, was the first Japanese automotive manufacturing facility in the Detroit area. It was not unusual for our agency (H&K) to be tapped by our WPP sister ad agency (JWT) to handle PR chores for its clients, eg, Mazda, Kodak…

For Mazda, every milestone — from the initial announcement to the groundbreaking ceremony to the grand opening wherein the first cars rolled off the assembly line — were deemed “home runs” in PR parlance. This was based on the extraordinary local/national TV news pick-up of the footage we shot, edited, and fed same-day via satellite (at a time when privately-produced video wasn’t viewed — by local news directors — with such disdain).

The second memorable moment occurred years later at a quarterly meeting of WPP’s NY-based communications execs, dubbed “The Tribe.” For this particular meeting, WPP chief Sir Martin Sorrell (pictured) joined our group for an informal chat.

I remember him saying that as a brand, WPP had no intrinsic (monetizable?) value. Rather, the value lied in the myriad brand names that fall under the WPP umbrella — brands that represent every marketing, media and research discipline known to man.

Via a follow-up note, I had the chutzpah to question Sir Martin’s premise by saying that the WPP name does actually have intrinsic brand value — to the investment community. He wrote me back almost right away, as he’s known to do, and agreed, which brings me back to today’s Adweek story and these questions.

  • Which has more clout: the WPP brand with client-side marketing decisionmakers, or WPP (Nasdaq: WPPGY) with the street?
  • And which WPP agency, or combination thereof, actually landed Mazda North America’s creative duties?


  1. As a holding company, WPP gradually diluted all of its child brands over the years. The only thing that’s been largely consistent is the WPP brand itself. In fact, Martin Sorrell has been more outspoken as an agency CEO than any CEO of any individual company within WPP. And all the brand association has gone to WPP, the brand. Additionally, WPP has represented strength in the agency community by means of its size, whereas a whole lot of companies within the holding company, particularly the large, traditional full-service agencies, seem to have fallen from glory.

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