by Johanna McDowell (@jomcdowell) LONDON: Meetings and speed-dates with a total of 17 agencies including group and independents —a very big Day 2 for AdForum Worldwide Summit London, 22-25 September 2019!

AdForum Worldwide Summit logoMore than 50 pitch consultants met in London this time — the largest-ever turnout for AdForum and proof that our work and our roles are becoming more and more important in the industry, both locally and globally. The learnings from the other consultants, how they interact with agencies and with each other are a key part of the summit and certainly add a number of perspectives to the information.

First up on Day 2 was:

1. The&Partnership

It was started in 2001 by three partners as CHI&Partners, a minority stake was sold to WPP in 2007, and it rebranded in 2013 when two of the partners left.

What does it specialise in? Building full-service capabilities inside client marketing departments. The relationship with WPP is very important and again embraces the concept of partnership. Its model is different in that it builds data, media and high-level creative capabilities into client marketing departments and is able to provide full service, end to end. Each built-in agency has its own name and all staff members are kept on the The&Partnership payroll. It has a global presence and, from time to time, will draw on other staff from WPP if needed.

Case studies for Toyota, Centrica and News UK demonstrated how the in-house capabilities work, as well as producing excellent work at compelling creative levels. One of the clients from News UK (Sunday Times, The Times, The Sun and Radio UK) spoke about how well this has worked — PULSE is the name of the in-house agency — as it has enabled the agency people to fully understand the process of news-making (they are in the same building).

2. Pablo (Spanish for “humble”)

This was the first of the 30-minute speed dating sessions which were held back at our hotel (The Town Hall Hotel near Shoreditch in London), which was the former town hall of Bethnal Green and had a town hall chamber room where the agencies could do their presentations. It was an excellent venue.

Pablo is a fully integrated content agency of about 55 people; it builds active brand platforms so that brands can act as well as speak — and have a point of view. It showed us case studies for Hollard and Barrett, “Me.No.Pause”, Save A Life and San Miguel beer. All of them showed very good results.

3. Electric Blue

One of the most-famous names in advertising, Sir John Hegarty, is the chairperson of this new agency and he introduced the team with one of his very clear messages. Hegarty believes (as do many of us) that the industry’s biggest mistake was separating creative and media, as an idea can’t be media-neutral: “The power of the media is to make ideas even more powerful.”

Case studies for Right Move, Yeo Valley, Matalen and DW illustrated how media and creative, when fully integrated and with a certain amount of media maverick thinking, can produce highly effective results.

My quote of the day from Hegarty was: “Media is an art, not an algorithm. It’s not what you say; it’s where you say it.”

4. Joint

Formed in 2012, and with a staff complement of 72 people, it has three practices in one:

  • Brand management consulting
  • International advertising
  • Social content

It has an international footprint (including in South Africa) via its clients and its work, with much of this being devoted to Amazon. Case studies for Amazon Alexa, Amazon Prime and Amazon Fashion were some of what was shown to us; it has worked with Amazon for five years and has a 24-hour culture as an agency in order to match with such a client.

Its client wish list?

  • More projects — fewer retainers (music to our ears)
  • More projects — fewer pitches
  • The big stuff — big things for clients
  • The “difficult stuff” which it, as an agency, relishes

And that was the morning!

5. BBDO Group

With an impressive start, global CEO Andrew Robertson met us in the outside area of the Bankside building to shepherd us up to his agency. He introduced the session following a delicious finger lunch, advising us that we would be grouped into separate smaller teams so that each of us could experience individual sessions with respective agency disciplines in the agency.

However, his main message to us was that every brand needs a voice strategy:

  • Character — the brand’s voice needs to reflect the brand
  • Service — needs to be meaningful
  • Voice search strategy with analytics and measurements

This voice strategy imperative was the theme that then linked the following four agency speed-dating sessions:

6. BBDO Conversational Design

From designing advertising to conversational design, this agency is already working with Amazon Alexa to find out how to make this work. When asked how the creative department is going to organise itself and how talent will be trained for this, the answer is that BBDO is bringing in people from the tech companies.

7. BBDO Molecular Lab Suite

This agency focuses on efficiency and automation at scale and social commerce.

8. Brand Activism

We were told by the CEO of BBDO Hamburg that brand activism is not for every brand. Only certain brands will do this and, if there’s too much risk or if the brand’s a big player, then the brand has to weigh up the short-term risks and the long-term gains. Finding the link between the brand and the issue is vital — and has to be authentic.

Case studies for Maltesers [look on the light side (of disability)], and German Rail (“The Fan”) address key societal issues.

Less than 5% of brands is involved in activism currently. This is expected to increase but only within the confines of risk.

9. Brands at Service

How do consumer package goods/FMCG achieve a service experience for customers? The example we were shown from Pedigree pet foods (Feed the good” that dogs bring into our lives with Selfie Sticks for Snapchat) was a great demonstration of a simple product innovation created by the agency for the brand. Pedigree’s “child replacement” aimed at empty nesters to adopt a dog was so successful in New Zealand that the shelters ran out of dogs!


Our final session at the BBDO group offices focused on (as we would expect) the work, the work, the work. A recent Forrester report calculated the cost of losing creativity in a world on digital sameness. Investing in creativity will drive growth, and we were reminded that brands aren’t built in a factory but in the mind.

Case study for “Viva la Vulva” (for product New Bodyform, Pure Sensitive) was shown to us — sensational and challenging all taboos — and then the senior creative leads at AMV shared their 10 rules for working with clients in order to arrive at the best-possible challenging work. It’s all about authenticity and creativity.

So ended an inspirational two hours at BBDO. From there, it was back to our hotel for four more speed-dating sessions before heading out again to WPP at Sea Containers.

11. Uncommon

This agency of 50 people was created less than two years ago by the former leaders of GREY London. Its stance is:

  • To work with brands that matter
  • To work with the world’s most-ambitious brands or create them itself

Uncommon is the fastest-growing startup of the decade and has created extraordinary work for brands such as ITV, ASOS, Guardian Newspapers (a campaign broke in London this week). The agency model is a core team of 55 supported by 200 other specialists that it speaks to and uses. Currently, it’s building a full production support structure within its new premises.

12. Wonderhood

This is another startup, less than a year old and not quite at 20 people yet. This agency makes documentary films and commercials, so it’s both a creative agency and a TV show production company. The cross-pollination of skills enables it to be very competitive and it shared with us the agencies that it’s competed against in the past 12 months since they started. All big names.

Case studies were for Netflix (Drive to Survive), Comic Relief, KARMA cola, Pit Pat (fit bit for dogs) Nike; at the same time, it produces films for TV.

13. Quiet Storm

Founded by Trevor Robinson OBE in 1995, it has always seen its purpose in simple terms: “Whatever the challenges, our job is to make things happen for your business; to celebrate what makes you great; and to get people excited about your brands.” It’s mainly a film production and creative agency with a strong sense of purpose.

Case studies for Orange Tango, Apple Tango and Haribo Global were shown to us in the 30-minute session.

Then it was on to WPP, now headquartered at the Sea Containers building by the Thames.

14. WPP

WPP CEO, Mark Read, who took over the position when Sir Martin Sorrell left abruptly last year, gave us an update on what has been achieved in the past 12 months. He’s positive about the industry and we noted that:

  • He wants WPP as a brand to be as respected as brands like Disney and LMVH are
  • That the positioning of a WPP as a creative transformation company is critical
  • Technology is at the heart of its offering
  • Google is now its third-largest client

He explained the organisational structure of WPP to us and then various presentations, from various agencies and senior people within the group, followed to underline that structure and how it is working. The WPP UK country manager told us how there are many internal communication and training programmes to build collaboration among the agencies, something that wasn’t in place before. It is working.

15. Wunderman Thompson

The creative and data leadership team at Wunderman Thompson told us that “the most-powerful ads don’t look like ads any more” and illustrated this with an example of the VW vehicle-buying process it’s designed for the client.

16. Xaxis

The complexity and excitement around machine learning and AI is all in progress and the CEO of this agency shared her views on future-proofing.

17. Geometry

Positioning itself as the end-to-end creative commerce agency in the group, Geometry sees itself leading in the area of retail growth, which will be more about vintage and second-hand goods as consumers start to eschew buying new.

Our visit to WPP ended with an excellent dinner and some great future thoughts.

See also


Johanna McDowellJohanna McDowell (@jomcdowell) is managing director of the Independent Agency Search and Selection Company (IAS), which is partnered with the AAR Group in the UK. She will be presenting detailed and in-depth reports and case studies on each agency from this 2019 AdForum Summit at her masterclass presentation in Johannesburg in October 2019.

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