Mel Edwards is the Global CEO of the newly created agency, Wunderman Thompson. The agency is a creation of a merger between J. Walter Thompson (JWT) and Wunderman that took place months ago. “When we looked at our clients, we thought, actually, there was a huge amount of benefit and how we could collaborate and come together,” Edwards told Communicate in an interview in Dubai.
Mel is one of the few CEO females in the industry,“But, you know, we’ve got a long way to go as an industry,” leading a merger of two global agencies that have faced allegations over diversity and gender equality. While she said she cannot comment on the matter, Mel reiterated the importance of a diverse environment. Nonetheless, its has an impact on the creative community.
Mel oversees around 20,000 data scientists, storytellers and creative technologists in 90 markets, according to Wunderman Thomspon. Within her strategy, Mel believes that focusing on the client to be able to create the proper strategies, will lead to growth.
We asked Mel a few questions that we think are salient in the mind of every creative director, manager and consultant.
Why did Wunderman merge with JWT?
I think it all started- feels like 10 years ago, but actually it was probably only 10 months ago that we started those conversations -and it was really sort of looking at what clients are asking for. At the moment, particularly a number of our global clients [were looking] around for simplicity, one team. They want experts. They don’t necessarily want to be navigated through a group of different logos. That was the sense that we were feeling and similarly, when you look up the business that JWT had strong credentials – in creativity, and in brand and what there was coming from a Wunderman perspective: credibility and expertise in data, commerce, technology and business. There was a lot of overlap and huge benefit in collaboration and coming together.
Some would say that JWT merged with Wunderman because they were in need of experts in data?
Firstly, it’s a new agency that we’re forming, but we were about the same size. We were both about 10,000 people. So it absolutely felt like a merger rather than a takeover, or one sort of eating the other. And in different regions, we were, I would say different sizes, if that makes sense. But complimentary. So I think, yes, JWT, could use the capabilities of Wunderman from a data in a tech perspective. And on the flip side, Wunderman could benefit from the creative superpower that JWT had.
What does the new agency offer?
We position ourselves as very much an agency that is a creative, data and technology [driven]. Creative is the first word I used because that’s what is the heartbeat of our business. Data provides all of the insight and technology is the enabler, but it’s creative that is the heartbeat of our business.
What is creative for you?
Creative is everything. So I think it could be a TV commercial. But actually, most of the time it’s sitting on YouTube, or you know, through various other different platforms. But it could also be creative in the way that we look at producing dashboards, like data dashboards for our clients to help them understand what’s working in their business.
The agency poisition is about inspiring growth for ambitious brands. So for us, it’s about helping our clients drive growth in their businesses. And that’s about using all of the resources within Wunderman Thompson to do that.
Is this the new direction of agencies?
I don’t know, I know that that’s what we’re doing. And that’s where we’re getting, you know, we’re seeing growth, because the thing about our positioning around inspiring growth for ambitious brands is, if our clients are growing, that means we’re growing.
So if we focus on our clients rather than ourselves, because at the end of the day, we merge[d] these two businesses to focus on the clients, then the rest can look after itself, which is a very simple statement to make, and it’s not that easy to do.
You have a lot of feet [teams] in different markets, how do you ensure you comply with your clients in these markets?
What we try to do is be respectful of markets, and the culture that sits within those markets and adapt to the needs of the market base. And I’m bringing the people to support that. So with any integration, we say here is the framework, you know, these are the behaviors that we would like everyone to embody as a business. So we’ve created four new behaviors for Wunderman Thompson, which are listening, in it together, creative bravery and positivity.
Some would say that agencies rather blend in with the existing ideas than challenge the status quo, what do you think?
I would hope that’s not the case. Because, you know, I think what clients buy are brilliant ideas. And if we said, you know, just doing the status quo, then I don’t think we stand out. I think the thing that makes us stand out, is our creative, whatever we’re doing. There’s clearly lots and lots of clever consultancy, and amazing strategies, but it’s the look and feel from your heart. Even when I’m here, we’ve done some amazing work across the businesses here. It is the creative that makes you feel the business.
We are putting in place a new creative council at the moment, bringing all of [our] creative community together. But the other thing that we’re looking at doing is [thinking], we need to have a community in a sense of belonging, but what about [involving] the people that are just coming out of university that are doing fantastic stuff? Because actually, it’s probably that team of people that could be helping us or they certainly could probably be mentoring me.