VMLY&R consolidates with Nick Walsh at helm

VMLY&R, VMLY&R Commerce, GTB and The Classic Partnership are being merged into one group under a new CEO

WPP agencies VMLY&R, VMLY&R Commerce, GTB and The Classic Partnership are to combine in the region, with VMLY&R Commerce CEO Nick Walsh becoming CEO of VMLY&R MENA. Walsh says the move is part of a “one-brand strategy”, which brings the structure of other global markets to the region.

The consolidation continues a trajectory that WPP has been following for some years to simplify the structure and less the number of its agency brands.

It has been less than two years since Geometry became VMLY&R Commerce in January 2021. Geometry was previously OgilvyAction, Ogilvy’s brand experience division, which changed its name in 2013. In 2018 WPP merged creative agency Y&R and digital agency VML to create VMLY&R. Although the 2020 renaming of Geometry as VMLY&R Commerce suggested the consolidation that is being announced now, VMLY&R Commerce in Dubai had still remained in its former offices, in the same building as Memac Ogilvy on Sheikh Zayed Road.

It will now co-locate with VMLY&R in Dubai Media City. Two other WPP agencies, GTB and The Classic Partnership, will also be merged into VMLY&R. GTB, standing for Global Team Blue, was a single-client agency established to service Ford Motor Company brands. The Classic Partnership, founded in 1998, was a Dubai-based creative agency whose clients will now be serviced by VMLY&R.

Georges Barsoum, CEO of VMLY&R MENA, will be leaving in September. “He and I have worked really closely, especially in the last 18 months,” says incoming CEO Nick Walsh. “The agencies have started working together so you’ve seen more integrated pitches; there’s a few pieces of business where we tried it out – on things like the Roads and Transport Authority and Danon. Georges will be stepping away in September to pursue other industry opportunities. We’ve worked really closely together. Georges is an excellent client guy, so he will be working with me on handover until September. He’s a really strategic guy so he’s going to help with some of the strategic initiatives we’ve got, and he’s also going to help with the new business side, and just generally with the overall handover.”

Internal management is still being finalised, but the plan is to make the VMLY&R Group offering more integrated.

“If you look across the spectrum of what we offer, end-to-end we have from CX [customer experience] to BX [brand experience] and then commerce at the centre,” says Walsh. “It’s a beautiful proposition, this idea that we are addressing emotional and functional values.”

He references a recent On the Record with Campaign Middle East podcast where VMLY&R global CEO Jon Cook describes the 2018 merger of VML and Y&R. Walsh says: “When the VML side came together with the Y&R side, the VML side was more of a digital base, and the Y&R side had a creative legacy. If you think now to the overall proposition, which is commerce at the heart when you bring Geometry/VMLY&R Commerce into that as well, we now for the first time – in this region certainly – have a truly end-to-end proposition.” Discipline expert heads will be part of what Walsh calls the next-level leadership team.

Walsh says his role as CEO will be about “driving the vision, driving the culture, driving the motivation of an agency”. He says: “We’re very, very focused on making sure we have the right talent, we have the right people, we have the right morale, we have the right atmosphere at the agencies.”

He adds: “I’m very much a stickler for process, doing things correctly, doing things in the right way, making sure everyone knows how we work, making sure we drive wonderful products – whether that is the creative work to win awards or making sure we raise the profile and the outward facing image of the agency, ultimately making sure that we drive the bottom line.”

At Cannes Lions this year, VMLY&R Commerce, working with WPP sister PR agency Hill & Knowlton Strategies won a Silver Lion for its Feminine Arabic work with Twitter.

“I just hope you are as excited about this as I am,” says Walsh. “I think it’s quite unique for the region. For me being here this amount of time [Walsh has been with WPP for 14 years now], I think we’ve got something really big on our hands here.”

Again he references Campaign’s conversation with global CEO Jon Cook: “You’ve heard from Jon, and you’ve heard about our success. You’ve heard how well this brand has moved and expanded in the US and across Europe and in Asia. And given how passionate I am about the Middle East and the potential that it’s got, I think bringing those two things together is just a wonderful lifetime opportunity.”

Walsh says Dubai should become more of an international hub for the global VMLY&R brand. “My dream – and I’m pretty vocal about it – is that big regional business pitches should be run out of Dubai. It’s the only real place in the world that you can put talent from all around the world that already exists in one office and truly have a global view.”

He adds: “We’re bringing that together. That ambition needs to stay. There’s Lions and global and international awards on our wall, and I think we need to bring that to the front. Within our respective networks, we’ve been one of the front offices that they look towards for that creativity and we’ll continue that.

“There are clients we don’t work with that the global network does, so we’ve got to awaken those clients, awaken those relationships and bring a bit of swagger and raise the profile and allow people to understand very clearly what the brand means and what the letters mean. I think we’ve got a really interesting moment.”