One Throat to Choke

By The Cog Blog Archives
Cover image for  article: One Throat to Choke

A rather strange post appeared on LinkedIn the other day (I bet that’s not the first time that sentence has been written). What it said may not be all that unusual but the medium on which it was posted certainly was. It’s probably best if I don’t reveal the name and company of the person doing the posting (although the person concerned had no such qualms), but here is what it said, in its entirety.

“How many of you work for a company that uses a large, consolidated agency network like WPP? And within that large network, how do you figure out which of the 150 agencies is right for you?”

Then, in amongst the no-doubt-attempting-to-be-helpful comments, the original poster came back with this comment:

“Thanks, I have many of the same concerns, but the contract is signed, sealed, and delivered; so I'm trying to make the most of the situation at hand. We have a WPP "concierge" who is supposed to match us with appropriate agencies, but she was formerly with Ogilvy so that's who she recommends every time.“

So – what we have here is a client taking to a public forum to ask how best to access the services of a holding company presumably selected (no doubt after the usual pitching process) by someone else within the organisation.

We’ve commented before on the merits of the approach pioneered by WPP. In effect, a senior executive is charged with running ‘Team ABClient’, which team is drawn from the combined resources of WPP, regardless of which operating unit these team members sit in. In theory this is a fine idea – the client has someone responsible for the totality of the business, one ‘throat to choke’ as it were, across all units, whose only concern is to do the best for the client.

The reality though is it would seem a little different, which (human nature being what it is) is hardly surprising. After all, someone with a lot of experience (and presumably many contacts) within one agency is going to try to bring business into that agency, however strong the case might be to use someone else within the group.

At the end of the day this is a problem over dividing the spoils. WPP, like any holding company runs budgets by operating unit. It needs to run P&L’s by client across all relevant operating units if this within-group collaboration is to work; something I am sure it is more than capable of implementing.

Meantime despite the rather public criticism from one client it has to be said that WPP would seem to be further down this path than its competitors (although it’s interesting that as far as I am aware no-one has yet been put into one of these central, client-facing roles from any of the Group’s media agencies). Furthermore this path offers genuine benefits for large advertisers if it can be made to work. As the holding company continues to evolve into an organisation that adds value to its operating units, this approach is certainly more innovative, modern and client-focussed than ‘just’ lumping two holding companies together because of the alleged benefits that come from being very big.

Brian Jacobs spent over 35 years in advertising, media and research agencies including spells at Leo Burnett (UK, EMEA, International Media Director), Carat International (Managing Director),Brian JacobsUniversal McCann (EMEA Director) and Millward Brown (EVP, Global Media). He has worked in the UK, EMEA and globally out of the USA. His experience covers shifts from full-service ad agencies to media agencies; from traditional single-commercial-channel TV to multi-faceted digital channels; and from media planning to multi-disciplinary communication planning. Brian can be reached at

Read all Brian Jacobs' MediaBizBloggers commentaries at Brian Jacobs.


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