WPP leadership has decided to merge J. Walter Thompson, the world’s oldest ad agency, with digital network Wunderman, a spokesperson for the former company confirmed today. The news was announced to employees at the start of the business day in New York.
The resulting organization will be known as Wunderman Thompson and be headquartered in JWT’s offices on Manhattan’s Lexington Avenue. It will employ approximately 20,000 people in 200 locations across 90 global markets. WPP is expected to debut a new visual identity for the company in the coming days.
Mel Edwards was promoted to global CEO of Wunderman in September after her predecessor, Mark Read, succeeded Martin Sorrell as WPP’s chief executive. She’ll keep that title, with JWT worldwide CEO Tamara Ingram serving as chairman.
“To acheve transformative outcomes, clients today need inspiration that is rooted in data-driven insight. I am really excited to be able to deliver that within one agency,” said Edwards. “Wunderman Thompson offers precisely what clients want: brilliant creativity, expertise in data and sophisticated technology skills. I couldn’t be more honored to lead this new organization and its exceptional people.”
JWT calls itself “the world’s best-known marketing communications brand,” and in the last 150-plus years it has created such iconic campaigns as the Oscar Meyer Weiner Song and the Toys “R” Us Kid anthem, in addition to some of the earliest ads for Henry Ford’s Model T automobiles.
Wunderman, which began 60 years ago as the first direct marketing agency, has since expanded into the fields of brand strategy, consulting, ecommerce and, perhaps most importantly, data analytics.
“Coming together was a decision driven by the opportunity to better serve our clients, expand our offering and create an agency effectively positioned for the future,” Ingram added. “Both JWT and Wunderman have been built by the commitment of many talented people whose combined capabilities will further distinguish us in the market.”
JWT did not elaborate beyond these statements. A WPP spokesperson declined to comment.
Wunderman Thompson will be led by CEO Mel Edwards and Chairman Tamara Ingram.
This is the second major merger announced by Read since taking the helm of the world’s largest holding company. His first, which mashed VML and Y&R together to create VMLY&R in September, similarly combined a digital network with an older, more traditional agency.
One source with executive-level connections at Wunderman told Adweek that the two firms, which have been “moving closer together” in recent months and share several major clients including Shell, Nestle and Johnson & Johnson, will effectively operate as one.
“Wunderman in many ways has become the darling of WPP,” the person said, calling the decision an obvious one for the sake of efficiency and account planning.
An email sent to top holding company executives earlier this month confirmed that all Wunderman staff will relocate from their headquarters in Manhattan’s Columbus Circle to JWT’s office in January. This move continues the holding group’s strategy of housing its agencies in various “campuses,” the newest of which are located in Toronto and New York’s 3 World Trade Center.
Rumors of the merger have been around for weeks, according to several people who spoke to Adweek. One recruiter described it as an “open secret” in the agency world. A WPP veteran said the merger had been discussed as “something that was clearly being considered” in recent leadership meetings.
Another holding company executive said the move is in keeping with Read’s “less is more” vision for the company, adding that Wunderman and other digitally oriented agencies will likely serve to support JWT’s above-the-line creative offering moving forward. That source compared the partnership to Wunderman and Possible, which joined forces to create a digital “super group” in 2017.