It’s been a year since WPP globally merged JWT and Wunderman to become Wunderman Thompson. At the helm, Wunderman Thompson’s South Asian business is the advertising veteran Tarun Rai who certainly needs no introduction.
Medianews4u caught up with Tarun Rai, Chairman, and Group CEO, Wunderman Thompson, South Asia for a brief chat about the first year of the merged entity and the way forward.
If you were to define the brand, Wunderman Thompson in say less than 100 words or so… how would you do that?
We are a new breed of agency. We are a creative, data and technology agency. We are unique. We are a bunch of specialists, not generalists. We can, genuinely, offer end-to-end solutions to our clients across the entire consumer journey and believe me it is not a claim, it is now a reality.
What are some of the major changes that have happened post the merger and formation of the new entity Wunderman Thompson?
Bringing together two very big, global agencies is not a simple job.
We were two formidable agencies in Wunderman and JWT with 10,000 people each in 200 markets across the world. Together, we are the world’s largest agency and have, now, a set of capabilities that no other agency can boast of. But such a merger takes time and even after a year we are still working on it.
The key to any merger is getting people with different and unique capabilities to work together, seamlessly. And to build a new culture that borrows the best from both organisations. The challenges have been different in different parts of the world. It depends on the relative strength of the companies in various markets and the concomitant set of capabilities.
Truly merging two great agencies into one is a herculean task! Tell us about the journey of this one year post the merger… how has it been?
In South Asia, the merger has been very smooth and seamless. JWT was very strong – more than a 1000 people and a heritage of over 90 years. Well, did you know that JWT had opened its first office in Mumbai, in a room at the TajMahal hotel, in 1929!
Wunderman was present only in India and had teams in New Delhi and Mumbai with a strength of around 50 people. Luckily, due to real estate reasons, they were already collocated with JWT in both these cities. That’s one of the reasons SA was the second market after the US that the Wunderman Thompson’s new identity was launched – only days after the launch in New York. As a result we had ten months to build a new culture and also use the combined capabilities of the merged entity to get new business, both from existing clients and also from new clients.
It helped win us over 100 new mandates in the year. We also did exceptionally well at award shows, with WT sweeping some shows like the Kyoorious Awards – India’s most prestigious award shows. All of this while we were building our new company and a new culture. As I tell my team, our challenge was to change engines which in our case was to add another engine that too while flying high. We didn’t have the luxury to park the plane for repairs. We were conscious that we should not become so internally focused that we take our eye off our clients’ business needs.
How does Wunderman Thompson differentiate itself from all the other big agencies in the pool? What are some of the factors that set WT apart from the competition?
Our proposition is unique. We are a bunch of specialists with distinct capabilities – from data analytics, technology, e-commerce and of course strategic planning and brand building. Creativity is at the heart of what we do. But we base it on in-depth data analytics and deliver it through all the technology platforms available.
We have the ability to offer genuine end-to-end solutions to clients – from strategic advice and consulting in how to build brands all the way to delivering the last mile through e-commerce. All under one roof, all part of the same P&L.
Tell us about the stellar work that WT has done in this one year of business? Campaigns, solutions, brand development or even simple case studies…
Picking out individual pieces of work will not be fair. We have over 500 clients and many of them would have benefitted from our new offering. We helped build new categories, launched new brands and also won a larger share of market for our clients. We also partnered our clients on their own journey of digital transformation.
As an advertising veteran, you have immense amount of experience… What is it that you look at when you hire new talent across the multiple functions at WT? How experimental are you while hiring people who primarily don’t bring any agency experience… be it at the junior or senior level? Also, what do you do to make sure people don’t poached by other agencies?
One of the things I am particularly proud of is that we have been able to keep our attrition levels much below industry standards. We have also the largest number of ‘boomerang’ employees – people who left the agency some years ago but are now back with us. In fact, I am a boomerang employee myself.
We have also focussed on getting talent with non-agency background into our company. So much so, that we mandated that for every new position there has to be 50% candidates from non-agency backgrounds in the shortlist. I believe, that the merger has helped make us a stronger ‘talent magnet’ than before. People want to join us since we offer training and growth across both traditional and non-traditional communication spaces.
We are the future of what agencies will look like and a great place to build a career. Good people will get offers. As an organisation we need to offer training and development to our people. We need to invest in them. We need to empower them and provide them with opportunities to build their career in the company. Only if we can do that can we retain our talent. This is what our focus is on. People are our only asset and we clearly want to invest in them.
What is the “Integrated creative solutions” approach has helped you get new clients and build the business?
We offer specialist capabilities and skills. That’s what distinguishes us. Clients, today, are looking for an agency that can offer them such a solution. An integrated solution makes sense both from the point of view of a consistent message as well as from sheer economics. However, they don’t want to compromise on capability.
Wunderman Thompson can offer both – specialist capability and integration – across all the touch points of customer experience, through the entire consumer journey. Many of the 100 new mandates that we have won in the year have been because of this strength of our new agency.
What are some of the growth plans that are in place for the short term and long-term?
Overall our plan is to get more ‘new’ business from our existing clients, by cross-selling our new capabilities to them. And also to get new clients – again not just by pitching for their traditional advertising business but by going after their larger MarTech budget. We are now talking, not just to the CMOs, but also to the CTOs. Building new revenue streams has been my mantra and this merger gives us immense new opportunities.
Is there anything else that you want to share with us?
One of the things I am very proud of is our gender ratios. We have one of the best gender ratios in the industry. And, contrary to almost all companies, we have a higher ratio of women in senior positions than at junior levels. My Leadership Team has an even, 50-50 split.