As the dust settles on the UK’s first real eChristmas and a
frenzied period of dotcom activity, J. Walter Thompson is the first
advertising agency in 2000 to launch a digital consultancy.
There can no longer be any doubt over just how important the digital
world will be to the future of blue-chip companies. More to the point,
there can no longer be any doubt that it is crucial for their
While JWT has delayed launching a digital unit until now, it is in no
way a newcomer to the digital business, either in terms of clients,
which include the likes of NTL and handbag.com, or in terms of previous
For the past couple of years, JWT has been working with one of London’s
leading digital consultancies, Deepend. Joint ventures are all very
well, but as the growth of the digital economy continues unabated, the
agency saw the need to step up a gear and launch something of its own.
It all comes down to the bottom line and this venture is sure to add to
JWT is still debating a choice of name but it has already hired the
former HHCL & Partners interactive director, Tim Hayward. He will be
partnered with a senior JWT director whose identity is still under
wraps. The two will put together a 15-strong team.
While JWT is experienced in the sector, it still has some catching up to
do. But Stephen Carter, the agency’s chief executive, remains
He says the time is right and points out that the market has just
started to go strategic.
’We’ve watched the market carefully and over the past couple of years we
have become one of the most wired agencies in London. We have a number
of clients whose businesses live or die by the power and the potential
of technology. The market wasn’t right before. It is going more
strategic and as an advertising agency that is where our skills lie,’ he
Nick Hurrell, the chief executive of M&C Saatchi, which launched eMC
Saatchi, agrees: ’As advertising agencies, we know the brand and
consumer best. Those are the two ends of the relationship.’
It is the move towards a strategic approach that has given the impetus
for a change in both the nature and the volume of the business that
digital consultancies are doing.
Two years ago it was all about building websites and those sites were,
for many clients, just an optional extra. Not so anymore, now it is
about fundamental change.
Marcus Vinton, the Ogilvy Group interactive creative director, says:
’The reality is that digital commerce can change a client’s bottom line
and can grow the business. The most sophisticated clients are starting
to understand that e-commerce has to be an integrated part of strategic
With JWT’s hat now firmly in the ring, there is a marked split among the
top ten agencies between those that have chosen to act and those that
have decided otherwise.
Some have taken the view that it is essential to be able to offer
clients advice on where their brands need to go in terms of digital
This has resulted in the establishment of digital agency brands such as
BMP Interaction, Saatchi & Saatchi Vision, Ogilvy Interactive, Publicis
Technology, eMC Saatchi and now the JWT offering.
These are joined by a number of notable examples from the top 20
agencies, including Leo Burnett, WCRS and Lowe Lintas & Partners. In
media too, MindShare, CIA and Carat have all launched digital
But that is really as far as it goes. As Jason Goodman, managing
director of BMP Interaction, puts it: ’Most advertising agencies in
London still don’t get it and they might never get it.’
It is easy to argue this case when you look at the likes of Abbott Mead
Vickers BBDO, Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R, TBWA GGT Simons Palmer
and McCann-Erickson. These agencies have largely left the internet to
the specialists and decided to concentrate on advertising.
Ben Langdon, the chairman and chief executive of the McCann-Erickson UK
Group, says: ’Advertising agencies should not constantly try to be jacks
of all trades. The McCann-Erickson World Group was established to create
a series of international networks, all of which are specialists in
their field. As such, we work closely with Zentropy Partners, a global
internet services company.’
A number of other agencies have decided to take the one-man-and-his-dog
approach. In this instance, an agency usually hires one digital
specialist and then waits to see how they get on. Usually they don’t.
Hayward played the one-man role at HHCL for three consecutive years.
Although there are marked differences in style and scope between those
that have set up digital shops, there is a basic agreement on the need
According to Carter, it comes down to a matter of survival. ’If we did
not go into this area ourselves, I would constantly be picking up the
phone to digital consultancies. This keeps us at the centre. It is not
about dabbling in this area, it is about who gets to advise clients on
TOP TEN ADVERTISING AGENCIES AND THEIR DIGITAL OFFERINGS
RK AGENCY DIGITAL STAFF FORMED CLIENTS
1 Abbott Mead n/a n/a n/a n/a
2 BMP DDB BMP 39 1996 Compaq, Barclaycard,
3 Saatchi & Saatchi & 20 1996 Hewlett-Packard, Procter
Saatchi Saatchi & Gamble, Pet Pyjamas
4 J. Walter n/s n/s 2000 n/s
5 Publicis Publicis 20 1989 BT, Asda, Merrill Lynch
6 M&C Saatchi eMCSaatchi 10 1999 n/s
7 RKCR/Y&R n/a n/a n/a n/a
8 Ogilvy & Ogilvy 40 1985 IBM, Unilever,
Mather Interactive Van den Bergh Foods
9 McCann- n/a n/a n/a n/a
10 TBWA GGT n/a n/a n/a n/a