Big or small good leadership is vital

The latest news that Miller Coors has consolidated its $200m business in to ‘Team WPP’ throws up a number of questions that are likely to be talked about in the HQ’s of the global networks.  The key one I would guess is “Will more global clients follow suit?”

The obvious question for me is if WPP have committed to opening an office in Chicago with 200 staff  is this another version of a single agency or will it be staffed by all disciplines from across the group? I have no doubt Sir Martin will make sure it will be managed in an exemplary way and will ensure both WPP and Coors review performance continuously.

The trick to pull off is getting different agency brands to play nicely with each other. The CEO’s of each agency are under the cosh to deliver and I found in Ogilvy internal back-stabbing going on to snaffle income from one business to another. Maybe this has been cured by now however I have one current example (I can’t name names out of confidentiality and not within WPP) with a large global name where the same antics go on between the agencies working with the said client. I know the client finds it tiresome and distracting.

The benefits for the client are pretty obvious if it works. There is bound to be saving – economies of scale – plus the efficiency of everyone singing from the same hymn sheet. As more and more brands are working across different platforms and channels the need for genuine, seamless, joined up communications is commercially vital. Also the added complication of multiple territories adds further pressure to get everything aligned.

I wonder though if Coors are going to mirror the structure within their organisation. Local client management may not welcome the command and control structure. I’ve found this to be a problem in the past where the Italian or French or German client is prima facie on board but in their own local way sabotage the instructions from the centre. National pride can often feel like the resistance movement in France during WW2.

Lou Gerstner pulled this off with IBM with his approach of ‘one brand one voice’ where the global account was consolidated in to Ogilvy & Mather. In his book “Who said elephants can’t dance?” he describes the internal challenges of aligning the worldwide organisation behind one direction. How he pulled this off is well worth a good read, very inspiring leadership.

I believe the leadership question becomes one of the big challenges on the agency side of things. It is important for the staff they have their own defined culture and don’t feel like they are the in-house ad department for Coors. The words ‘dependent’ and ‘independent’ have powerful meaning in terms of the culture. If the leadership is weak then the agency tends to say ‘how high’ when the client says ‘jump’. The main man or woman fronting such a venture needs to be strong, have clear principles and be prepared to tow it out from time to time with the CMO on the client side – hopefully based on mutual respect.

In the end the creative work either thrives or whithers depending on the relationship.

Best of luck to all who sail in her.

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