Rosemarie Ryan wasn't quite sure what to think as she explained to Microsoft executives the rationale for positioning the company's new site for Web searches as a "decision engine." While navigating the shop's January 2009 pitch for Bing, Ryan was bewildered by the quizzical glances Microsoft executives shot at each other. "I didn't know whether it was concern or delight," Ryan says of the reaction.
It turned out that the strategy and phrase presented by the president of JWT's North American operations and her team at the WPP Group agency nearly matched what Microsoft had arrived at internally a few days earlier, prompting some of the client execs to fear that their research had been leaked.
Mich Matthews, svp in charge of Microsoft's Central Marketing Group, remembers feeling a little spooked and nudging a colleague in disbelief during the two-hour pitch, which took place inside a packed conference room in Redmond, Wash.
But it didn't take long for the nervousness to give way to admiration for an agency they felt nailed the strategy. Within days of the meeting, Microsoft awarded JWT the estimated $75 million Bing account -- its second account from the global software giant. Before the year was out, JWT added two more assignments from Microsoft -- global duties on both Office and an extension of the agency's first task on Enterprise Solutions. JWT went from being a Microsoft newcomer to one of its largest global agency partners. Today, the client supplies an estimated $50 million in annual worldwide revenue to the shop -- up fivefold from about $10 million at the end of 2008.
The rapid growth from a client that first hired the agency in July 2008 reflects Microsoft's confidence in JWT's strategic rigor, agility and hands-on leaders, particularly Ryan, 47, and Ty Montague, 46, co-president and CCO for North America, says Matthews.
"Ty and Rose are really quite an extraordinary combination. They fill each other out," Matthews says. "They're funny like this old married couple that finishes each other's sentences and kind of know where one another is going, but are so distinct and different that it really is one plus one equals four." Matthews adds that the New York-based partners "turn up. They're on it. They're not delegate people."
The Microsoft windfall was the driving force behind the agency posting an enviable 5 percent gain in worldwide revenue last year, to an estimated $2.1 billion. Other clients, such as Nestle, Shell, Bayer, Schick and T. Rowe Price, also expanded their relationships, and revenue from a significant late-2008 Johnson & Johnson win ($100 million) kicked in.
The growth was impressive amid a bleak landscape largely defined by client spending cutbacks and agency layoffs.
"It goes back to the strategy of work, reputation and growth," says JWT worldwide CEO Bob Jeffrey. "And what that means is your first priority are your current clients. Because if you do great work [for them], that's how you're going to grow your business."
On the creative front, 2009 marked the second straight year that JWT won a category Grand Prix at Cannes, in media, for its use of Japan's postal system to distribute good luck messages from Neste's Kit Kat -- pronounced Kitto Katsu in Japanese, which translates into "surely win" -- to students about to take entrance exams. The Tokyo office recognition followed 2008's direct marketing Grand Prix for JWT Chennai's "lead India" campaign for The Times of India.
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