WPP Launches New Lincoln Unit

New York-based agency to help reintroduce luxury Ford brand

WPP today unveiled plans for a new, as-yet-unnamed agency, dedicated to Ford Motor's Lincoln nameplate.

To be based in New York, the shop will reintroduce Lincoln's new designs to consumers and better position the trailing luxury brand to compete with category leaders like BMW and Mercedes Benz. Cameron McNaughton, a veteran automotive marketing consultant whose resume also includes 12 years at McKinney, will serve as the agency's president. Jon Pearce, who joins from a post as executive creative director at Bartle Bogle Hegarty in New York and previously worked on Lexus at Team One, will serve as chief creative officer.

The agency, which will have a staff of some 45 employees—some plucked from WPP's Team Detroit unit—will focus on account management, creative, and planning. Team Detroit, which handles parent company Ford, WPP's largest global client, will also provide support on nuts-and-bolts services like creative production, media buying, and accounting from its headquarters in Dearborn, Mich. McNauhgton will report to Team Detroit CEO Satish Korde.

Ford marketing chief Jim Farley, flanked by McNaughton and Korde, announced the effort to a group of journalists gathered in New York. WPP CEO Sir Martin Sorrell joined via video conference from Dublin, Ireland. Before commenting on the new agency launch, Sorrell paid respects to Suzanne Hart, the Y&R employee killed Wednesday in an elevator accident at the agency's Madison Avenue headquarters. "An immediate investigation is under way to determine the causes of that accident," Sorrell said. "Our sympathies, condolences, and hearts go out to Suzanne's family."

When discussing the new shop, Sorrell said that the decision to locate it in New York, rather than Dearborn, came from a desire to access the city's luxury market and creative workforce.

Although the location has not been finalized, according to McNaughton, what's known is that the agency is looking for its own space rather than moving into existing WPP real estate. This will increase the cost of doing business, but those involved in the move—which has been in the works for at least eight months—believe establishing the unit as a separate entity will be key to its success. 

The shop initially will focus on Lincoln. (Currently, a group of about 50-60 staffers at Team Detroit focus exclusively on the brand; that group will continue to manage the business until the new shop is up and running in New York.) In time, however, the agency will likely pitch other accounts. Even then, though, Lincoln is "always going to be the anchor tenant of the mall," said a source.  

The goal is to be operational by the second quarter of next year.

The efforts to overhaul Lincoln follow Ford's decisions in recent years to pare down its luxury offerings by selling Jaguar, Land Rover, and Volvo, and killing Lincoln sister brand Mercury. Thursday's announcement follows this year's news that Lincoln will present seven new or redesigned models in the next four years, including an MKZ sedan at the Detroit Auto Show in January. The agency's work will begin to roll out in 2012.