Wunderman Cato Johnson, New York, appointed four new executive vice presidents this week, saying the agency has evolved into “a new breed of marketing services company” with a focus on “building clients' businesses through complete customer relationship management and e-business solutions.”
It was an announcement especially noteworthy for veteran DMers since it was accented by another, more nostalgic press release less than 24 hours later detailing the induction of Lester Wunderman, one the agency's founders, into the American Advertising Federation's Advertising Hall of Fame.
Reading between the lines, some agency insiders suggested the appointments represent an array of uncertain activities within the company as well as a real response to identifiable historical events now shaking up the direct marketing world. Critics point to grumblings by former staff members of increasing management bureaucracy and stifling oversight reflected accordingly in high creative turnover — something left unaddressed in the wake of last week's re-engineering.
The agency, a division of Young & Rubicam, characterized the magnitude of its operational changes as a “series of strategic and sweeping moves with far-reaching implications for global marketing.” It is “positioning itself to offer clients a complete portfolio of traditional and next-generation marketing programs integrating Internet services, database management, teleservices and consulting.”
Determining if an agency's creative tensions are significant often is too subjective to gauge, especially in an industry that is experiencing growing pains. And WCJ's decision to make such significant changes will certainly be regarded as a barometric reflection that the DM world is more besieged by converging technologies.
Perhaps most telling in the announcement was the decision by John R. Bingle, chairman/CEO Worldwide of WCJ, to install cross-functional teams to help its new global practice divisions provide new services and operations for clients and their customers in four key areas: database marketing, teleservices, Internet service and business developing and consulting.
“Our clients are increasingly looking to customer relationships as their key advantage as global competition and fast-changing technology make competing based on product and cost more difficult.” Bingle said.
Mark Grindeland, WCJ's new executive vice president and Worldwide practice leader for database marketing, agreed wholeheartedly, saying direct marketing clients are continually asking how to improve customer relationships.
“Companies are finding it harder and harder to develop a sustainable competitive advantage,” he said. “[They're realizing] that competing just on pricing is not substantial enough.”
When it comes to developing effective customer relationship programs, much has changed beyond competitive pricing structures. But plenty of marketing managers still are asking their account advisers how predictable, trackable, simple direct mail and customer loyalty campaigns suddenly exploded into costly hi-tech “integrated direct marketing solutions” requiring multiplatformed e-commerce testing and virtual one-on-one database analysis.
Apparently familiar with such inquires as well as what is required in getting clients to focus, Grindeland chimed in vintage Wunderman style, “Brand equity is built or destroyed where the customer experiences what the company stands for,” touting WCJ's historical agility to tap one of its core competencies as an agency. “We understand consumer behavior very well.”
WCJ knows consumer behavior, having proved its ability for clients such as American Express and the U.S. Postal Service — a longtime client for which it garnered a Caple's Award and honor for Best of Show last month.
Whether Bingle's changes will be matriculated into any creative retooling is yet to be seen. But, as one source inside the company said, “People come and go in this business all the time. The fact remains, we do a lot of great work here and people know it.”
In the meantime, Lester Wunderman — the man credited with coining the term direct marketing — has joined the Advertising Hall of Fame. And the evolving agency that he helped create now employs nearly 3,000 people and maintains offices in 40 countries.
“I'm not done yet,” Wunderman said in response to his induction at last week's American Advertising Hall of Fame Luncheon in New York. “Technology and the Internet have opened new channels for marketing and advertising. Maximizing these opportunities is how WCJ continues to differentiate itself.”
Appointed at Wunderman:
Database marketing: Mark Grindeland, formerly senior vice president and marketing director at Bronner Slosberg Humphrey.
Teleservices: Eric Larsen, formerly vice president of global client care at Gateway Inc.
Internet services: Andreas Panayi, formerly senior partner and director of international operations at Modem Media Poppe Tyson.
Business development and consulting: Steve Silver, formerly vice president at Booz Allen & Hamilton.
In addition, Kevin Lavan, formerly chief financial officer/chief information officer at MTV Networks/Viacom and most recently senior vice president of finance at Young & Rubicam, was named finance and technology division head.