Ford Says It Is Still ‘Exploring Options’ With WPP Amid Senior Leadership Upheaval

By Patrick Coffee 

In most cases, a new CMO is very bad news for an incumbent agency, especially if the client is as big and important as Ford.

But the big shakeup that hit the company last week does not appear to have affected its relationship with WPP. At least not yet.

ICYMI, North American president Raj Nair left last week after an investigation into what a statement called “inappropriate behavior” and a New York Times expose detailing a “culture of harassment” at the company.

The following day, Ford announced Nair’s replacement as well as several other new executives including, most prominently, CMO and group VP of Lincoln Joy FaloticoKumar Galhotra, who had held the CMO role since last November, will assume Nair’s former role.

It was Galhotra’s promotion more than three months ago that led Ford to state that it was re-examining its relationship with WPP and the dedicated GTB unit as part of a larger marketing review. This news came several months after a major round of layoffs at the agency’s Detroit headquarters, and that development followed the appointment of Jim Hackett to CEO at Ford last May.

Today, a client spokesperson said that the new leadership changes will not directly affect the larger WPP partnership.

“Our comment to WPP/GTB has not changed since the last time we shared,” the representative said. “We value the talented and creative men and women at WPP. They are trusted partners and curators of the Ford brand. As we are across the Ford business, we are exploring options to improve the fitness of our marketing and advertising operations. No decisions have been made.”

This is, indeed, the same quote we received back in November.

A couple of things have changed since then, chief among them Ford choosing Laundry Service (which is owned by sports marketing giant Wasserman) to handle social media content for a 2018 campaign to promote the Lincoln Navigator SUV. That marked the first time the client had gone outside the holding group for such an assignment. Ford sales also dropped in the U.S. and China during Q4 as Fiat Chrysler threatens to overtake the company in 2018.

WPP and GTB deferred to the client for comment.