GTB CEO Satish Korde Disputes Forbes Report About WPP Losing Ford in All-Staff Email

By Patrick Coffee 

First, our readers have almost certainly seen a recent Forbes story regarding the big-money Ford creative review.

In case you haven’t, reporter and former agency staffer David Kiley went well beyond the confirmation that Ford has chosen Wieden + Kennedy to run its all-important upcoming Fall brand campaign in painting a fascinating and somewhat unflattering portrait of the relationship between WPP’s GTB and the holding group’s biggest client.

Among the key claims included in his story:

  • Ford has called on GTB to improve its culture, which “has not been conducive to producing top-flight engaging creative”
  • Wieden will “set U.S. national creative strategy” for every part of the Ford business except trucks
  • BBDO has been “unofficially eliminated” from the review
  • Agency CEO Satish Korde, COO Kim Brink and former Ford CEO Mark Fields forced chief creative officer Toby Barlow out in February 2017 (first reported here)
  • Fields believed at the time that GTB was “overcharging” Ford

We do not in any way doubt the accuracy of Kiley’s sourcing. Unsurprisingly, however, not everyone agrees with the conclusions of the piece (though several individuals close to the account have described it to us as generally accurate with some significant caveats). A source with knowledge of the matter also said Ford executives have expressed frustration with GTB employees for talking to Kiley.

One thing is clear: Satish Korde sent an email to staff this week pushing back against the article. He primarily disputed the idea that the review is over and that WPP has lost creative control of Ford. He also denied that Barlow was pushed out—though several parties told us the same thing last year—and said that, contrary to the claims made by sources in the Forbes piece, GTB has held several town halls and meetings to keep staffers up to date on the process.

Anonymous Twitter account @OverheardatGTB does not seem to agree.

Two other sources also disputed the assertion that BBDO is out of the running. One said the Omnicom shop is still very much involved in the global pitch, which was always known to be separate from the assignment that went to W+K. Another said Ford asked BBDO whether they might be willing to “take a campaign someone else had developed and run with it,” a move in keeping with the client’s self-reported desire to maintain a sense of flexibility when working with agencies outside the WPP network.

Another party said that Ford had to pick a new shop to create its Fall campaign due to sales pressures and couldn’t wait for the end of the global review. As if to illustrate the division between the project and global pitches, this source claimed that BBDO’s work was never tested against Wieden’s. According to the same individual, the big review has now entered its final financial stage as the three agencies compare price tags.

Spokespeople for GTB, W+K and BBDO declined to comment, as did Toby Barlow. Ford representatives have not yet responded to an email seeking clarification.

“I stand by my reporting and urge people to read it carefully,” Kiley wrote in response to our email. “I realize Ford has not concluded its process yet.”

The copy of the Korde note we received did not include its introductory paragraph. But we have included the rest of the message below:

We also need to guard against anything that undermines our collective efforts. In the last couple of days an anonymously sourced piece by blogger David Kiley has been getting some attention. The piece seems to rely in part on sources within or associated with GTB, which is disappointing—but I’ll come back to that. More importantly, it contains several inaccuracies that we have raised with the writer and that we also wanted to correct for all of you.

First, the story asserts that the process for the RFP has all but concluded, which is something our client has clearly refuted. While it is late in the process, we remain fully engaged in this important pursuit.

Second, the contention that Wieden+Kennedy winning a 4th quarter U.S. brand transactional campaign signals that GTB has lost creative control in North America is also a point that Ford has strongly denied. We remain the principal creative source for Ford’s advertising as the RFP process continues.

Third, the assertion that we have had no communications with our people in the form of town halls (since corrected in the latest version of the piece) is patently false. Not only have there been town halls around the world (including one with Mark Read), there have been almost weekly briefings with the senior leadership, regular messaging and Q&A updates, and dozens of team meetings to keep employees up to speed on the process. We have provided all of the relevant shareable information we have had, as soon as it has been available.

Lastly, the story makes assertions about the nature of Toby Barlow’s departure from GTB with which we disagree. Toby gave many good years of service to Ford and WPP and we aimed to respect that, as we would with any other individual in this situation.

We have thought carefully about how we should respond to the article within GTB. We could remind everyone that unauthorized interactions with the media are not permitted and that any media requests should be directed to our press team. But you know that already.

So I will just say this: it is a privilege to work for Ford, which is one of the world’s truly great companies. Ford has entrusted us with its brand, and we have responded with total commitment and outstanding work over many years. This gives me a deep sense of pride in what we do, and I know you all share that feeling.

Thank you for all you are doing. We will keep you updated on the process and if you have any questions, please ask.


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