Change Agents INTERVIEW and David Wunderm INTERVIEW When Daniel Morel and David Sable arrived at it had cha Impiric an Wunderman 10 years ago, it had changed its name to Impiric Jonah B and lost its way. Jonah Bloom, former editor of Advertising Age, of Advert lowdown gets the lowdown on how they engineered its transformation to engineere a global digitally-charged shop firing on all cylinders to a globa shop firin WE’VE ALL read the agency transformation story. Ch ag New boss comes in. Severs ties with the past. Makes big proclamations about change. Touts new positioning for the shop. Swings axe at fiefdoms, walls and any WE’VE ALL r staffer who stands in the way, or even just seems to Morel (left) and Sable started off by listening rather than firing story. New bo the past. Ma change. Touts stand for the past. Cranks up new business machine people. “You’ll find an immense consistency with the people in Swings axe at who stands in the company 10 years ago.” stand for the to create a semblance of momentum and backfill the Morel (left) and Sable started off by machine to cre and backfill th holes left by inevitable client defections. It’s an oft- listening rather than firing people. defections. It’s “You’ll find an immense consistency with with few happ the people in the company 10 years ago.” told tale in adland – with few happy endings. what is missing. An opportunity to say … what are When Daniel Morel and David Sable arrived at we doing together? What can we do better? What Wunderman (then Impiric) in late 2000, in their should we no longer be doing together?” respective roles of global CEO and CEO of the New York office, no one would have blamed them for That calm, client-first approach paid dividends as defaulting to the above script. They had a mandate the agency avoided any major client defections for change from WPP chief Sir Martin Sorrell, and during the transition from old to new management, were taking over an agency in crisis. and it has continued to characterize Morel and Sable’s leadership of the agency. Indeed, for Morel’s first two Impiric’s management, having traded in the years, he insisted that Wunderman did not pitch any Wunderman name for the new moniker, had tried new business. to abandon marketing in favour of becoming a tech- nology consulting company. “The Wunderman that “If you don’t have an organization that is ready to Lester had created, heavy on data and relationships, fight, you go in and get blood on the floor,” he says. was going away,” recalls Morel. “We weren’t present- “You get demolished because you start not paying ing ideas, we were presenting systems, charts with attention to your existing clients and you lose one or arrows going in every direction, and not selling what two big clients and you are dead, completely dead. we were supposed to sell: ideas, customer insights So your first service, when you have a company and relationship marketing that would help clients which is neither here nor there, is to cater to the cli- grow revenue.” Business losses were mounting. ents. Bring the business down and make it profitable at that level whether it’s $200 million or $20 million.” But instead of reaching for their axes to hack the Sable, now Wunderman’s COO, summarizes: “Excel- place apart, Morel and Sable reached for their lence in delivery. We were nuts about executing.” suitcases. “When you come in to that situation, you start travelling,” says Morel. “It is your chance Nor did Morel and Sable take a slash and burn to connect with clients and staff and understand approach to the staff they inherited. While knowing that some of Impiric’s hires did not have the right the time was still largely associated with printed skills for a marketing company, they focused on communications, which Morel and Sable already finding the people in the organization that they liked, knew were more past than future (around 70 per cent and both Morel and Sable visibly puff up with pride of the agency’s global work is digital today). But Morel when talking about their talent retention. “The man- wanted to evolve direct marketing toward digital agement team is intact,” says Morel. “Look now and rather than come up with a showy repositioning. you will find an immense consistency with the people in the company 10 years ago.” “We went back to basics,” says Sable. “We looked at our competitors and everyone’s be- Your first service, when you have a company that is coming i-this or i-that, and we said no, we’re Wun- neither here nor there, is to cater to the clients derman and we’re about data. What difference does it make, we’ll be digital – of course – because we’re - Daniel Morel about the consumer and about the data. The clients got it. Today most of our clients are digital and our We looked at our competitors and everyone’s work is digital. So we bridged that gap without be- becoming i-this or i-that, and we said no, we’re coming i-Wunderman or e-Wunderman.” Wunderman and we’re about data - David Sable What they did revolutionize was the global nature of the agency. In fact, if Sable is pushed to identify one Confronted with the premise of longtime GE CEO critial moment in the Wunderman turnaround story it Jack Welch that you should always be looking to was on Morel’s first day in the New York office. On shed the worst 10 per cent of your employees, Morel that day Sable just happened to have an IBM client loses his French cool for a second: “I hate that. Just in the office, who mentioned that IBM was likely to hate it.” ditch Wunderman in Asia. “I knew nothing about that client in Asia,” admits Sable. So Daniel walks in and “Somebody has worked 15 or 20 years for your I said ‘hey, here’s your office, and by the way we’re company, good times and bad times, they have losing IBM in Asia, you’d better do something about contributed something. We think of firing people as that’. a management error: you made an error when you hired them, you couldn’t manage them properly, you If I had to put my finger on it, that was what couldn’t train them properly … and now they’re going changed the business – it was going to be thought to wind up at the competition. You have to start from of as a global business.” the principle that you don’t fire people.” In part thinking global would be about identifying Sable did, however, take the axe to one thing in the right sort of clients for Wunderman. We needed 2001: the Impiric name. “David had the wonderful clients we could own, clients where the relationship idea that we had to go back to Wunderman,” says marketing, data and creative that goes with it would Morel. “We had a quick conversation with Lester [the be central to their business, not an afterthought. We founder was so happy he cried], and we asked our realized that would mean technology clients. We had colleagues at Landor ‘what’s going to happen when to get IBM everywhere, Ford everywhere, Citibank we go to the market and say we were Impiric for everywhere. And we could not align everything, so nine months and now we’re going to be Wunderman we had to let some clients go in favor of these clients again? We’re supposed to be communication experts that we wanted to work with everywhere for the next and we are going to look like fools.’ And Landor 10, 20 years.” said ‘that’s right, you are going to look like fools, and they’re going to drag you through the mud for The global project also meant more air miles for two weeks, and after that you’ll have a great name Morel, Sable and their colleagues. “We would send back.’” people from New York in those early days to work in other offices for literally two months,” says Sable. Reclaiming the Wunderman name recognized that “And we didn’t charge the other offices. We under- Lester was the soul of the agency, but it also re- stood that it’s one pot. We all live and die by one identified the agency with its direct marketing roots. bottom line. If we all do well, we all do well... ” And An interesting choice given that direct marketing at it worked: IBM, Citibank, Ford and several others became truly global clients who were making use of KBM and call it Wunderman Data or something, and more of Wunderman’s offices and services than ever you lose everyone,” says Sable. “You have to before. remember you bought these companies because they had a culture, and technology and people that But with the business going digital, Morel were important. So we said we want to learn from saw gaps in the Wunderman offering. “Suddenly them. The onus is on us to manage it, and it’s harder companies like Google are appearing and suddenly to manage that way; we got a lot of pushback at the clients are discovering things they can do that they beginning. couldn’t before, and they want to be able to take advantage of those things globally from Taipei to “Yes, people thought our org chart was optically Paris. So the only way to service those clients and disturbing,” chuckles Morel. “They wanted to know to quickly have a grasp on those things is to buy why we didn’t have one brand. But clients don’t entrepreneurial companies that are digital natives.” necessarily want one brand; clients like having a distinct relationship with a particular office, or person. So having solidified the core business, Morel and Our job is to harmonize it so that the clients get the Sable went hunting for acquisitions that would give benefit of true specialists.” them added data and digital capabilities. Between March 2005 and the end of 2010, they acquired It has clearly worked. Many of the entrepreneurs more than a dozen businesses including Fortelligent, who built the acquired businesses are still with ZAAZ, SRP International, ComHaus, Shaw, Datacore Wunderman, and their shops have continued to grow Marketing, AquaOnline, These Days, Blast Radius, apace, as has the mothership. Indeed Wunderman Agenda, Kassius, Designkitchen, Actis and RTCRM. today is a near billion-dollar business, with huge global clients like Microsoft that regard the agency Unusually for a large agency acquiring much as the backbone of their marketing efforts. It’s a far smaller players, Wunderman did not rebrand any of cry from the slumping, confused, $300-million busi- the above shops. “Most of our competitors would buy ness that Morel and Sable took over a decade ago.