Horizontality advantages and challenges agencies adrian farr

WPP agencies are going flat out in order to provide clients with better service.

Over the past few years, one of WPP’s key strategic aims has been to drive ‘horizontality’ among its agencies. This agency buzzword fundamentally means providing a client with a breadth of different yet complementary marcomms (marketing communications) services, care of a number of aligned WPP agencies. The theory is that we bring the very best of what WPP has to offer to a client, care of a bespoke, specialist, yet combined team.

In successful cases, horizontality also involves the building of Client Teams – and this could be referred to either as ‘flat-pack’ or ‘pre-packaged’ horizontality – offering distinct client (and agency) advantages.

‘Flat-pack’ means pulling disparate agencies together for a new client, e.g. WBA. ‘Pre-packaged’ means creating a team from WPP agencies that already work for a client, e.g. GTB (or Bluehive back in the day).

To over-simplify things, 20 years ago clients probably only had three core agencies: an advertising (creative) agency, a media-buying agency and a PR company. Fast forward 10 years, and you would need to add digital strategy, DM, social strategy, social delivery, digital build and on, and on, and on…

Therefore clients today have often found themselves with an army of different agencies – all with sharp elbows – trying to outdo each other, offer the same services (in slightly different guises) and “steal each other’s dinner money.” Not an ideal scenario. So now clients want something different.

A Client Team offers key advantages to both client and agency, but also some (mostly internal) challenges.

The advantages:

  1. One clear strategic framework and vision
  2. A unified (joined-up) creative approach across disciplines and channels
  3. One point of contact for the client – more efficient account management
  4. Financial efficiencies:
    1. For the client: Fewer senior team heads/managers and central overheads
    2. For the Client Team: Effective resource sharing (people and creative assets), and therefore more efficient staffing and execution plans.
  5. Integrated approach across disciplines:
    1. For the client: One briefing process that enables a coordinated response, integrated planning and delivery. Plus the benefit of multi-agency client experiences (with other clients) being applied to their account
    2. For the Client Team: Access to broader thinking from more disciplines and the ability to deliver that coordinated response.

The challenges:

  1. Heavy lifting is still needed within the team to enable real integration. Physically putting agencies together helps to a degree, but for maximum effectiveness the team must have an overarching strategy and goal; an effective, workable plan; and then a real means of executing that plan.
  2. The need for agencies (and people) to leave their egos at the door (not always easy in our world!).
  3. Some behavioural – and to a degree, cultural – changes are needed by the client to help deliver efficiencies and ensure the relationship delivers its true potential.

When it works, it is most definitely worth the effort. Seamless, effective marcomms delivered by a hand-picked group of individual specialists that are on brand, on budget and delivered very much on time.

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