Close-Up: WCRS&Co moves away from the past and embraces ethos of collaboration

Why 2011 began with a rejig and a new name for the first time in WCRS history.

The last few months of 2009 were not great for WCRS. The agency had just been through a messy break-up with its chief executive, Will Orr, and had seen BMW - a client of nearly 30 years - go up for review.

It took 12 months of frantic fire-fighting, in which the agency also had to repitch for Santander, for a sense of stability to be restored. A new management line-up was announced, with the managing director, Penny Herriman, being promoted to chief executive and the ex-Unilever marketer Jonathan Moore coming in as the chief strategy officer.

The creative directors, Yan Elliott and Luke Williamson, were also given wider roles, with the executive creative director, Leon Jaume, taking less of a hands-on approach to concentrate on his wider Engine role.

What's to come next is perhaps more significant, as WCRS has merged with its Engine sister shop Altogether Digital, forming an agency that has more than 150 staff and annual revenues in excess of £20 million.

"It was obvious that WCRS needed to broaden its skill-set," Herriman explains. "While we had brought in some excellent digital talent, we hadn't overhauled the business in that area in the way we should have.

"We'd been sharing clients with Altogether for a while and actually done some of our most creative work when working with it, such as 'Moonwalking bear' for Transport for London, so it was a no-brainer to bring us both together."

The merger has also formed the basis for the agency's new strategy - revealed last week - that's focused on the values of collaboration. And it's why the agency has changed its name (for the first time in its history) to WCRS&Co.

"WCRS&Co is about celebrating the power of 'and'," Herriman says. "It shows our ability to tap into other sources of expertise - whether that skill-set is somewhere else in Engine or even away from Great Portland Street.

"Advertising now is such a broad spectrum, every time the answer to a business problem will require something different, so you have to be more agile than ever before. And the best way to do that is to collaborate with the best experts in their field."

Herriman uses the Olympics as an example: "With clients trying to get their heads round how they can capitalise on the event, we can point to our relationship with Synergy, who are experts on sport."

Outside of Engine, the agency has also begun forming alliances with companies such as Pitch & Sync, which work in emerging areas such as music and gaming.

"It's a very open approach, but there'll still be a very defined process," Moore says. "It's about having access to various skill-sets, stitching them together and getting the answers that a client needs."

Whether this is a pitch-winning positioning remains to be seen, but as a former client, Moore reckons that it's an approach that will appeal to all marketers.

"As a client, I found that while there's nothing wrong with multi-agency teams, it does give you a great deal of tension when there's a battle for claiming credit for the work," he explains.

"And once someone has come up with the idea, you have to sit down and work out how you divide the money up. That process is flawed. As a client, it can be quite problematic committing to the money decisions too early, it stops the idea flowing and changing in the ways that you want it to. Our approach will eliminate those problems."

But will it improve the creative output? WCRS's work over the past few years hasn't been bad, but - "Moonwalking bear" aside - Elliott and Williamson have yet to really fulfil the promise they so clearly showed before joining the agency from Mother in 2005.

Herriman hopes that the new approach will help to fully release the pair's (and the whole agency's) creative talents.

"Yan and Luke are driving this," she explains. "They have something in their DNA that thrives on collaboration."

"People used to want to work for agencies that specialised in certain areas such as digital," Moore adds. "But that's no longer the case. Now they want to have the ability to work across the board, to learn about and thrive in new areas."

Now, of course, the agency must prove itself, but at least it seems to have developed a clear positioning and settled management team that has been glaringly absent in the past couple of years.

It still has some hurdles to overcome, and will be forced to spend a large chunk of the next few months defending its Weetabix account, but there's a definite feeling that the agency could be about to embark on a new era. It needs to.

"There's been a lot of innovation around Engine recently, but not enough has happened around WCRS," Herriman says. "But we're now showing very publicly that we are changing. We're not trading on the past any more."

2001: "West Side Story", Super Noodles, Mother
2001: "Over-friendly father", Dr Pepper, Mother
2004: "Patrick Swayze", Orange Gold Spot, Mother
2004: "I wish", Coca-Cola, Mother
2007: "Cool cat", Sky, WCRS
2008: "Moonwalking bear", Transport for London, WCRS

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