How WPP’s Newly Merged Agencies Are Approaching CES

Every January, agency executives make their annual pilgrimage to CES to check out the latest trends in consumer technology and distill them into business ideas for clients.

At WPP, newly merged agencies VMLY&R and Wunderman Thompson are taking a wider purview at the show in keeping with their broadened services. Where Y&R and J. Walter Thompson bring decades of storied creative expertise, VML has digital creative chops and Wunderman offers expertise around data and commerce.

Both legacy VML and Y&R have attended CES for years, touring clients through the show floor and holding meetings and events. But bringing together VML’s digital capabilities with Y&R’s branding expertise offers a deeper opportunity to talk about connected brand stories across platforms, said JJ Schmuckler, chief growth officer at VMLY&R.

“As we talk to clients about what we can apply from CES to their business, there’s more we can weave in from a connected brand perspective,” he said.

One such area is voice, where clients are starting to ask more frequently in RFPs how virtual assistants from Google and Amazon can fit into their branding and commerce strategies.

“That’s a universal thing that affects our clients,” Schmuckler said. “The connectivity between voice and commerce enables personalized, data-driven opportunities in the spirit of the connected brand.”

Despite bringing together almost 8,000 people in the merger, VML and Y&R have shared clients, such as Dell and Pfizer. That makes approaching a show like CES a bit easier, since teams have been used to working together.

“We’ve both always hosted and toured,” Schmuckler said. “Both agencies have curated the right group of people, and we bring clients together for tours and learning sessions. It’s been kind of easy to coalesce.”

Wunderman Thompson, which brought together 20,000 people across 90 markets in its merger, is taking things a bit slower at CES this year. Unlike Y&R, JWT hasn’t had a big presence at the show before as a creative agency.

“Because we haven’t officially launched Wunderman Thompson, we’re in that hybrid place at the moment,” said Mel Edwards, global CEO of Wunderman Thompson. “Our business needs a bit more thought about what our culture will be.”

CES has provided a good opportunity for executives from both agencies to meet, greet and discover synergies, Edwards said.

“Everyone is excited,” she said. “As soon as they hear somebody from one of the companies talk about their capabilities, they’re like, ‘Wow, you have that? That’s brilliant because we could really use it.’”

Next year, the agency will return to CES as one united team with a more integrated approach to the show.

“It will feel more united because we’ll have lived, breathed and worked together for a year,” Edwards said.

As noisy as CES is, agencies come here to identify real business solutions for clients. This year, that story for marketers is more about incremental changes to technologies like AR, VR, voice and 5G rather than a splashy new device or medium.

“We come here to learn and bring that back to clients,” Schmuckler said. “We try to strip away technology for technology’s sake and think about innovation.”

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