J. Walter Thompson is consolidating its digital, direct and database resources to form connect@jwt, a 250-person relationship-marketing operation with estimated revenue of $63 million from clients like the U.S. Marines and Northwestern Mutual.
The move is designed to create efficiencies for the agency and its clients by bringing together the three practices in seven North American offices under one profit-and-loss center, overseen by connect@jwt CEO Kevin Wassong. Each previously reported into their local leadership. (JWT's digital, direct and database services in Detroit, which have been operating in concert with Ford for years, will continue to report to Sean Neall, global business director on the auto account and head of the outpost.)
"You no longer have groups of people solely focused on one individual silo. They're focusing on the whole picture," said Wassong, former CEO of JWT's 6-year--old interactive arm, digital@jwt. "The way consumers today connect with clients' services and products is through multichannels. I know clients are getting frustrated with having to work with multiple partners to try to oversee this or get the perspective on the entire picture."
JWT is the latest example of an agency network aligning its digital, direct and database capabilities in recognition that these disciplines are inextricably linked. A year and a half ago, Omnicom Group's TBWA combined its North American interactive division with the direct-marketing services of sister shop Direct Partners to expand the footprint of Tequila, its global marketing services arm. Late last year, Havas' Euro RSCG integrated these capabilities following the network's absorption of direct- and database-marketing company Brann from sibling network Arnold.
"In the digital space, a lot of what we do is direct marketing," said George Gallate, who was promoted to evp, managing director of Euro RSCG Marketing Services post transition.
Merging these disciplines gives agencies a competitive edge, said Susan Goodman, chairman and CEO marketing consultancy Goodman & Co. "If all you understand is branding and you don't understand how to make a banner actually go to work for you, then you're wasting your clients' money," she said. "I don't think you can win a pitch today as an interactive agency if you can't prove with solid cases and strong personnel how you can use interactive media to drive leads and conversion."
Wassong is hoping the combination will stimulate growth, forecasting a 15 percent revenue rise this year for connect@jwt. With the adoption of connect@jwt—a name lifted from JWT's direct response unit in U.S.—the agency's other interactive and direct brands, including digital@ jwt, Imaginet and GoDirect, are in the process of being phased out. No layoffs will result, said Wassong, adding that future hires will carry cross-discipline backgrounds.
While this is a recent development for many agency networks, Ogilvy & Mather's digital and direct units, OgilvyInteractive and OgilvyOne, respectively, have been collaborating in this fashion for the past eight years.
"If you're in the business of trying to build customer equity for your client by finding the highest valued customers and creating relationships with them, you have to do that online, offline, at retail, on wireless platforms, on digital TV platforms," said Carla Hendra, president of WPP's OglivyOne North America. "The idea of one to one is applicable to an offline direct world or the digital world."