Rosemarie Ryan wasn’t quite sure what to think as she explained to Microsoft executives the rationale for positioning the company’s new site for Web searches as a “decision engine.” While navigating the shop’s January 2009 pitch for Bing, Ryan was bewildered by the quizzical glances Microsoft executives shot at each other. “I didn’t know whether it was concern or delight,” Ryan says of the reaction.
It turned out that the strategy and phrase presented by the president of JWT’s North American operations and her team at the WPP Group agency nearly matched what Microsoft had arrived at internally a few days earlier, prompting some of the client execs to fear that their research had been leaked.
Mich Matthews, svp in charge of Microsoft’s Central Marketing Group, remembers feeling a little spooked and nudging a colleague in disbelief during the two-hour pitch, which took place inside a packed conference room in Redmond, Wash.
But it didn’t take long for the nervousness to give way to admiration for an agency they felt nailed the strategy. Within days of the meeting, Microsoft awarded JWT the estimated $75 million Bing account — its second account from the global software giant. Before the year was out, JWT added two more assignments from Microsoft — global duties on both Office and an extension of the agency’s first task on Enterprise Solutions. JWT went from being a Microsoft newcomer to one of its largest global agency partners. Today, the client supplies an estimated $50 million in annual worldwide revenue to the shop — up fivefold from about $10 million at the end of 2008.
The rapid growth from a client that first hired the agency in July 2008 reflects Microsoft’s confidence in JWT’s strategic rigor, agility and hands-on leaders, particularly Ryan, 47, and Ty Montague, 46, co-president and CCO for North America, says Matthews.
“Ty and Rose are really quite an extraordinary combination. They fill each other out,” Matthews says. “They’re funny like this old married couple that finishes each other’s sentences and kind of know where one another is going, but are so distinct and different that it really is one plus one equals four.” Matthews adds that the New York-based partners “turn up. They’re on it. They’re not delegate people.”
The Microsoft windfall was the driving force behind the agency posting an enviable 5 percent gain in worldwide revenue last year, to an estimated $2.1 billion. Other clients, such as Nestle, Shell, Bayer, Schick and T. Rowe Price, also expanded their relationships, and revenue from a significant late-2008 Johnson & Johnson win ($100 million) kicked in.
The growth was impressive amid a bleak landscape largely defined by client spending cutbacks and agency layoffs.
“It goes back to the strategy of work, reputation and growth,” says JWT worldwide CEO Bob Jeffrey. “And what that means is your first priority are your current clients. Because if you do great work [for them], that’s how you’re going to grow your business.”
On the creative front, 2009 marked the second straight year that JWT won a category Grand Prix at Cannes, in media, for its use of Japan’s postal system to distribute good luck messages from Neste’s Kit Kat — pronounced Kitto Katsu in Japanese, which translates into “surely win” — to students about to take entrance exams. The Tokyo office recognition followed 2008’s direct marketing Grand Prix for JWT Chennai’s “lead India” campaign for The Times of India.
The Kit Kat effort took something ordinary — 22,000 post offices — and turned it into a powerful platform for brand messaging. And the message itself demonstrated JWT’s understanding of the nuances of marketing a global brand regionally.
The Cannes honors — as well as other awards — illustrate tangible progress in Jeffrey’s drive to raise the creative standards of a network historically known for client management. They also demonstrate success outside the realm of traditional advertising. More than a third (nine) of JWT’s 26 Lions last year came in the categories of design, best new product, media, cyber, promotions and direct. “I like this way of doing things, more than just television,” says Fernando Vega Olmos, JWT’s creative chairman for Western Europe and Latin America.
Jeffrey, now in his seventh year as CEO, attributes the shop’s business success and creative strides in part to hiring leaders from smaller, entrepreneurial and creatively driven shops.
Ryan, a quick-witted planner who grew up in London, came from Kirshenbaum Bond + Partners. Montague, an extreme sports enthusiast from New Mexico, honed his talents at Wieden + Kennedy. Jeffrey himself joined JWT in 1998 from Lowe and traces his roots back to the New York office of Chiat/Day. Global planning director Guy Murphy, U.K. CEO Guy Hayward and Vega Olmos hail from Bartle Bogle Hegarty, 180 and Lowe, respectively.
“If you come from a smaller agency environment, you know how to take accountability and to take ownership on the work,” explains Jeffrey. “The other thing is what I say about JWT: ‘Small as possible, big as necessary.’ When you come from a small environment, you learn to work with a core team. You don’t have the luxury of all those resources. So, people tend to work in a much more efficient way.”
For the recruits, the scale and resources of JWT and its clients are a major attraction. Hayward, for example, went from helping to lead a two-office agency with revenue of about $44 million and roughly 200 staffers at Omnicom Group’s 180 to overseeing about 600 staffers at seven U.K. units that generate estimated annual revenue of $100 million. Hayward, 45, who started in November, also felt an emotional tug, having started his career at JWT London as an account director in 1987. “This job had my name on it. I just had to get it,” says Hayward.
Of course, Jeffrey’s remaking of an agency many considered conservative and stodgy into a modern marketing company that embraces new channels of communications is still evolving.
To better deliver direct and digital services, for example, worldwide digital director David Eastman in ’09 submerged direct unit RMG into the main agency and created a new department on par with planning, creative and account management to house creative technologists, experience designers, digital strategists, and specialists in emerging media and search engine optimization. The “experience department” began in New York and this year will spread to four more global hubs — London, Singapore, Hong Kong and Sao Paolo — says Eastman, 46.
“What Bob is bringing from one side — a focus on creative development — is something he set [out] to do when he took the job,” says Bruno Motta, chairman of Shell Brands International, a global JWT client. “But what I sense is that [while] he’s actually committed to it, that is still a challenge in terms of materializing on a daily basis.”
Martine Reardon, Macy’s evp of marketing, feels that the agency is hitting all its marks. Reardon, who last year worked closely with JWT N.Y. on the production of a half-hour holiday animated special called Yes, Virginia, finds the execs on the business to be “good partners. They’ve got a lot of credibility with us. So, it’s easy to say, ‘Yeah, let’s do this” show.
Macy’s for decades has produced live programming — including for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade in Manhattan — but it had never created an animated special before. Neither had JWT. But the show, which aired on CBS and depicted the story of the “Is there a Santa Claus?” letter that 8-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon wrote to the editor of the The New York Sun in 1897, generated favorable reviews and viewer kudos, and has the potential to become a staple of the network’s annual holiday programming, according to Reardon.
For the agency evolution shown to date, JWT honchos credit Jeffrey with clearly communicating his vision and giving them ample resources to perform. India CEO Colvyn Harris describes the 56-year-old CEO — a J.F.K. aficionado who has a degree in English literature — as “very real and human. … His connection with people is very strong.”
The London-based Murphy, who joined the agency in 2006, finds his boss to be an “empowering leader. He allows people to feel trusted. … One of the greatest motivations you can have is to have clear goals and a sense of support and belief that you can achieve them.”
Adds Montague: “He’s a passionate advocate for great work, shaking things up and doing things in a different way. And he also has the kind of brain that allows him to run this colossus.”
Beyond Tokyo’s Kit Kat mail effort, which Nestlé evp Petraea Heynike described as a “very innovative way of moving the brand into the new world,” creative highlights included: New York’s “Because it’s everybody’s business” work for Microsoft Enterprise Solutions; the multi-faceted, ubiquitous launch of Bing; and Bejing winning two Lions for a Web-based promotion of a limited edition Bruce Lee-embossed phone that Nokia sold only in China, where it’s a market leader.
Nokia initially asked for point-of-sale material to support the November 2008 release of the N-Series phone, whose 960 units sold for $1,300 each. Instead, JWT suggested creating something online, where Nokia’s core target of 18- to 30-something technology enthusiasts live and breathe. To that end, JWT produced three black-and-white videos of what appeared to be Lee (but was actually a lookalike actor) using a nunchucks to play Ping-Pong and light a match dangling from another man’s mouth. An initial 10-second teaser of “Ping-Pong” generated more than 1 million views within 24 hours of its seeding online, says Deb Op den Kamp, JWT’s global business director on Nokia.
Subsequent videos drove viewers to a Nokia micro site featuring the phone and a kung fu game. The phone sold out within days and the Web effort generated broader, global buzz for the Nokia brand. “This was a great example of how to make sure the brand stays relevant and fresh,” says Pekka Rantala, Nokia’s svp of marketing. “And it really created a nice movement in that local market. So, we’re really happy about that.”
Based on the results, Nokia is now sharing the Lee viral effort internally and with other roster shops as a “best practice” example of “innovative digital marketing,” according to Rantala.
The Bing effort included TV spots, outdoor, theater and Web ads, placement on late-night talk shows and a live, two-hour content takeover of Hulu.com. The spots depicted men and women trailing out of conversations and into non sequiturs triggered by words in the conversations to illustrate the problem of “information overload” associated with Web searches.
Microsoft’s global “Everybody’s business” campaign started out traditionally in January with TV spots in six markets. It evolved into a heavy digital effort in 31 markets featuring a Web series about solving business problems hosted by former General Electric CEO Jack Welch and his wife, Suzy, and blog conversations with Internet technology professionals, says global business director Beth Waxman-Arteta. The spots used the movement of still animation on screen to depict what corporate CEOs were saying about the cost benefits of using Microsoft business products and services.
The value-focused approach reflected a shift from original plans for an evergreen message about the power of the company’s business tools, says Matthews. The significant shift in October 2008 stemmed from the recession taking root, and JWT’s nimbleness left an impression on Matthews that carried over into the shop’s successful Bing pitch, three months later.
“A couple of my people just hauled themselves back to New York and camped out with JWT for a week,” Matthews says. “And within 21 days, JWT turned around a campaign and I want to say like 65 pieces of collateral … and it got done around this new positioning. A whole set of new work within 21 days. I have never seen agility like that.”
And for JWT, the quick turnaround marked the start of its ’09 roll with its newest big global client.