Flock reaction to WPP’s “Horizontality” Team offer


Martin Sorrell

If reports in Adage are to be believed then WPP is gearing up to push its Team or “horizontality” approach to clients, especially to those that they feel may be unsettled by Publicis Omnicom merger. See the full Adage article here.

What is the WPP offer?

They are offering clients either a coordinated approach to their networks, or at its most extreme, a bespoke agency curated from the WPP Networks. WPP has already won or protected several assignments in this way.

Does it work?

As a new business tool for WPP, the Team or Horizontality concept has indeed won and protected several assignments, so yes it has worked for WPP for sure (see link to HTC bespoke agency story here). However, has the work improved or the promise of integration been delivered? Here evidence is much more mixed, many of the high profile “Team WPP” structures have fallen, and some may have even ended up in the courts with disappointed clients seeking recompense.

Clients vocally supporting Horizontality and their Team structures seem thin on the ground.

Certainly the Flock Associates industry survey on the role of holding companies suggests that many are cynical about the role and benefits of holding companies. See results of the survey here.

Lastly, there will be many existing clients of WPP who have a lot of business in different companies within the group that are still awaiting the elusive benefits of “The Group” to be offered to them. We know, we are advising some of them!

So is the Team/Horizontality concept just a pitch toy to attract clients rather than to service them?

Our view is that there are of course potential benefits to be gained from all of the holding companies, above and beyond the disintegrated assets in the networks. WPP has experimented more than most with different ways of delivering these benefits. There are certainly good and truly awful examples in all the holding companies.

We think the primary benefit is integrating across all agencies regardless of who owns them. A strong client, with good advice, can use agencies from either several holding companies or from one holding company to achieve their goals.

Our advice

Our advice to clients is to look at brilliantly integrating their agencies, regardless of which company owns them (as we have seen ownership may change!). A holding company solution is NOT a panacea for integration issues. Often it is an attractive pitch that you may wish was true, but often fails to deliver on its promise. However, once you have driven good integration amongst your agencies, and you find several exist in one holding company, then you may be able to drive further benefits from the system.

If you would like more advice on your holding company strategy and how to make the most out of it, give Flock a call here.


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