VML and Y&R unite to become VMLY&R

Creative agency Y&R and digital network VML to merge

WPP announced that creative agency Y&R will merge with digital network VML creating a new entity called VMLY&R and will be led by Jon Cook from Kansas City.

This move by the new chief executive officer Mark Read’s is in response to demands from investors and clients to streamline the organization which employs 150,000 people around the world.

VMLY&R will now include more than 7,000 employees with offices in Kansas City, where VML was previously headquartered, in addition to Y&R’s home base in New York. Additional hubs include London, São Paulo, Shanghai, Singapore and Sydney.

“This is an important step as we build a new, simpler WPP that provides clients with a fully integrated offering and easy access to our wealth of talent and resources.”

VML global CEO Jon Cook, who spent 22-plus years at the Midwestern shop, will lead the company and report directly to Read. Y&R global CEO David Sable will step down from that role to become non-executive chairman while continuing to support the newly formed company in unspecified ways.

“This is an important step as we build a new, simpler WPP that provides clients with a fully integrated offering and easy access to our wealth of talent and resources,” said Read.

One key reason for the merger, according to outside analysts, concerns the unique challenges facing WPP’s creative agencies. While Y&R has notched several account wins such as Office Depot, Amtrak and Miss America in recent months, it has not been as profitable as the group’s digital and media buying shops.

“The landscape of our industry is changing rapidly, and we are committed to being an invaluable partner to CMOs around the world,” said Cook.

Cook joined VML in 1996 when it was a small independent shop known as Valentine-McCormick-Ligibel with only 30 employees.

Five years later, WPP approached the company with a proposal to align its “integrated process” model (which was unique at the time) with that of JWT before buying VML outright for an undisclosed sum.

The agency eventually grew to employ more than 3,000 across six continents as Cook ascended to the global CEO role in 2011. Last year, it expanded further by absorbing fellow WPP digital shop Rockfish.

Y&R was a far larger and more established company when former WPP CEO Martin Sorrell moved to scoop it up in 2000 for $4.7 billion. That deal remains the biggest acquisition in the history of the ad industry, as noted in Adweek’s recent video timeline of Sorrell’s tenure. (In addition to Y&R, the bundle included PR giants Burson-Marsteller and Cohn & Wolfe, corporate branding agency Landor, healthcare shop Sudler & Hennessey and Impiric, the direct marketing business that would later revert to its original name, Wunderman.)

The move helped WPP push past Omnicom and IPG to become the largest holding group in the world.

The merged entity’s new clients now include Colgate-Palmolive, Dell, PepsiCo, Wendy’s, Pfizer and Ford, which is currently nearing the end of a major global creative review.


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