How New CEO Mel Edwards Will Build On Wunderman’s Momentum

Wunderman global CEO Mel Edwards has big shoes to fill.

Last Thursday, the CRM and digital agency said it would replace CEO Mark Read, recently named CEO of WPP, with Edwards, who previously led the agency in EMEA. Read is credited with turning Wunderman around from a legacy direct marketing company into a digital powerhouse.

Edwards wants to keep that momentum going. And with successes under her belt including winning the Shell account for WPP and launching Wunderman Inside, a new agency model in which staff sits on-site with clients, she’s up to the task.

“I’m not going change everything straight away,” she said. “That’s a bit of a knee-jerk reaction. I’m keen to let things settle down and look forward to next year.”

Wunderman has been a big strategic focus for WPP. The agency merged with WPP digital agency Possible in July 2017 to round out its commerce offering as it becomes a focus for clients. In the past two months, Wunderman has acquired Gorilla Group in Chicago and The Cocktail in Spain to beef up its ecommerce expertise.

Edwards spoke with AdExchanger about her new role.

AdExchanger: What’s your first priority as CEO of Wunderman? 

MEL EDWARDS: I want to focus on building on the momentum that Mark has achieved. I’m going to spend time with Seth Solomons, who runs [Wunderman in] North America. It’s our largest region, and I need to work with him and understand what our priorities are in that market.

North American agency business has been lagging. What’s your plan for growth? 

We haven’t worked through that yet, but where I see growth across Wunderman, I can see that for North America. We have a big data and health business in North America. I’m keen to make those a broader offering across other regions, and vice versa.

As CEO, what will you do differently than Mark Read and what will remain the same? 

I’m a very different person to Mark in terms of personality, and I think he would say the same. But we do think quite alike, and it’s probably because I’ve worked so closely and learned an incredible amount from him. I’ll put my personal stamp on things, but from a business perspective, the decisions I’ll make will be very similar.

What will change for clients and staff, given your different personalities? 

I would hope nothing. It should feel the same, and if it doesn’t, I’ve failed on that.

Our global head of talent was speaking to me last week about what I want to stand for. We talk about strengthening capabilities, but really it’s our people we need to invest in. I want us to do the best work of our careers. I want people to feel empowered that this is the place to do that.

Wunderman has invested a lot in commerce and consulting over the past few years. How does your vision for the agency jibe with those investments? 

We’ve evolved Wunderman to provide end-to-end customer experience offerings for clients. If they need business transformation consulting, we can support that. I see us continuing to build on that. What else do we need to help clients be future-ready? From a commerce perspective, what more do we need to ensure our capability has a footprint everywhere?

That’s going to be a combination of organic and possibly further acquisitions. But I’m not going to focus on acquisitions over the next year. It’s about making sure what we have internally can support, rather than bringing in additional businesses.

Are you trying to compete with consulting firms?  

It made sense for us to broaden our offering because we needed to join up the journey and deliver on that promise. Therefore, naturally, we’re competing against the consultants. We pitch against the Big Four quite often. The Cocktail only ever pitch against the consultants. It’s more about looking at what our clients were after and making sure we could deliver that.

Does Wunderman pitch more against consultants now than agencies? 

It’s about 50-50. I think we’ll come up against them more as time moves. And they’re doing the opposite to us, aren’t they? They’re trying to build the agency offering to compete against our creativity. The thing that still makes us stand out is our creative power and ensuring that anything we do has a creative flavor.

How big of a focus is Amazon as you do more work in commerce?

We have massive strengths around commerce. We have a business in The States called Marketplace Ignition and we just acquired 2Sales, which helps clients with other platforms rather than just their own for commerce.

Whenever I speak to individuals within Wunderman, I say, “What’s your client’s commerce strategy?” They say, “They don’t need a commerce strategy because they don’t sell directly.” But, in fact, everybody should have a commerce strategy. You don’t need to have a commerce site.

What type of talent are you looking for as you double down on commerce and consulting, and how will you find them? 

One of the key success stories for us has been around the customer experience, so looking for people with expertise in that field is key. Since my announcement on Thursday, I can’t tell you how many people have contacted me asking if there are opportunities. How Wunderman is now positioned is very attractive to a lot of people.

We recently hired somebody from Deloitte Digital. He’s heading up the Shell account. Prior to that he was at AKQA. That’s a really attractive proposition. He has the expertise to think not only from a comms perspective, but a consulting perspective. We need more of those people.

That type of talent is competitive. How many people are agency-consultancy boomerangs?

I wish I knew because if I had that list, I’d have them all at Wunderman.

This interview has been edited.

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