Feature

Customer Engagement Agency of the Year 2020: Wunderman Thompson

The shop has managed to scoop the prize within a year of the merger of J Walter Thompson and Wunderman.

Customer Engagement Agency of the Year 2020: Wunderman Thompson

It was a big call when the high command of WPP took the decision to ditch the venerable but ailing J Walter Thompson brand, which dated back to 1864, and merge it with Wunderman, the winner of this award in 2019. However, within a year, the resulting agency, going under the moniker of Wunderman Thompson, has snatched Campaign’s Customer Engagement Agency of the Year title with aplomb.

Despite having to bring 650 people together, and the logistical challenges of merging the two agencies, it is to its credit that the new entity won eight significant clients and produced award-winning work. There was also eye-catching organic growth, including 100% on GSK and 200% on Selfridges, showing that the agency is living up to its purpose to "inspire growth for ambitious brands".

It has also produced a wealth of work showing off its capabilities across creative and CRM. For BT Sport (pictured, top), before the football season had even started, it "leaked" the "19/20 script of the season" to the biggest names in football, who took to Twitter with their reactions. YouTube pre-roll content featuring football journalist James Richardson teased fans with extracts from the script, while players pledged to prove it wrong. The follow-up was a national DOOH, press and social campaign, "Unscripted". The word "unscripted" subsequently became more searched for than "Brexit", "Boris" and "Fantasy Football", while BT Sport went on to record a 30% increase in subscriptions for 26% of its 2018 budget.

Meanwhile, the agency helped Samsung smash targets for the launch of its Galaxy S10. With several product launches in the same period, the agency developed a complex CRM programme incorporating pre- and post-launch phases across direct and digital channels. Consumer journeys were personalised with the volume of communications increasing as people interacted with the campaign, and a personalised "onboarding" programme delivered insight-led enhancements to improve customer experience.

And let’s not forget the scoring of a mobile first with its AR app for Sensodyne that allowed users to assess their tooth sensitivity. Having launched in Germany, the plan is to roll it out globally over 2020.

On the new-business front, wins included Duracell on brand, Toyota on CRM, Centrica on digital and an experience win for HSBC pensions, which resulted in a 600% increase in new-business revenue. Over the year, 65% of opportunities were converted. Wunderman Thompson also scooped more than 40 awards across creativity, effectiveness and B2B during the year at shows ranging from Cannes Lions, The Clios and Caples to the D&ADs and the DMAs.

Inbound job applications rose by 670% as more than 100 new roles were created. Meanwhile, the agency managed to keep churn rates below the industry average, at 16%. This could have something to do with a determined focus on people, which brought investment in the agency’s "People Team", with key appointments in diversity and inclusion, learning and development and talent acquisition. "Learning labs", a "well mind" programme and a new LGBT+ team are just some of the developments launched over the year to nurture and empower staff.

"A really good performance – lots of good work, new-biz wins and cultural initiatives," one judge said.

At the outset, Wunderman Thompson’s goal was to "perfectly blend creative, data and technology" to "build the agency of the future". The past year shows it has set itself on the path to achieving this.

Runners-up

Havas Helia

Winning the coveted Lloyds Banking Group business, as well as Comparethemarket.com and Open University, helped Havas Helia achieve a 100% pitch-conversion rate. The wins equated to £6m in new revenue and 15% year-on-year growth. That the shop managed its impressive new-business haul without taking its eye off the ball or losing a single client is all the more commendable. When Havas Helia did find itself having to defend its English Heritage account, it not only retained the business but substantially increased its remit. With an increased headcount of 24% and a new leadership team in place raring to go, the future looks bright.

Merkle

Merkle, which describes itself as a "five-year-old, global, data-driven, technology-enabled performance marketing agency", became part of Dentsu Aegis Network in 2016. Globally, it has 56 offices in 13 countries. In 2019, the agency says it closed the year with a mind-boggling 140 new-business wins in the UK alone (more than double that in 2018) and passed £19m in new-business revenue for the first time. New clients include Dixons Carphone on the CRM side and the media accounts for Kurt Geiger, Page Group and Emirates. A founding member of the Conscious Advertising Network, which aims to tackle unethical practices in the industry, in a thoughtful move, the agency introduced CV-blind candidate selection for early career roles.

MRM McCann

Last year was a strong one for the Interpublic Group agency. It won the hotly contested Three Mobile CRM business and was the only UK customer engagement agency to snare a Cannes Lion in Direct and win at the Campaign Big awards. MRM McCann also won three golds for three different clients at the DMAs. The agency collaborated with diverse placement agency Jolt, talent outfit Hidden and Creative Equals’ "Creative Comebacks" to turn talk about inclusion into action. Another highlight was the appointment of the energetic Chris Pearce as chief executive. Judges commended the agency for its work on Direct Line and The Miscarriage Association.

Ogilvy UK

For the WPP agency, 2018 was a year of change as it grappled with the integration of its separate agency brands into Ogilvy UK. That year ended with all staff offered voluntary redundancy as part of what agency leaders termed its "transformation journey". So, from the agency’s perspective, 2019 has been about making a comeback. It appears to be on the road to achieving this. Highlights include a loyalty scheme for Boots based on social channels, which yielded a 22% increase in the under-30s and leading the DMAs with a record 25 nominations and scooping the most wins. The judges were full of praise for Ogilvy’s progress. "An organisation that is on a clear confident forward projection having undertaken a wholesale change in the glare of much industry scrutiny," one said.

Proximity

This year Proximity introduced a guiding philosophy to its business, known as "Connected Creativity". Under the plan, Proximity rethought its proposition, teams and operating model and started working with a suite of tools called Prox Stack to help "deliver the right message, through the right media, at the right time". The agency credits the new approach with five new-business wins (Cazoo, Carphone Warehouse, Currys PC World, Signify and Virgin Voyages) worth £5m, awards success and strong and varied work for its clients. The latter includes some notable firsts such as the first TV brand work for The Economist in 20 years and Ikea’s first sustainable collection Lagom.

TMW Unlimited

It has been a significant year for TMW in terms of growth, with the agency welcoming 16 new clients, including Absolut and Coca-Cola. This comes despite the departures of TMW veterans Chris Pearce and Kate Wheaton, chief executive and director of strategy respectively. TMW says its performance has continued to drive the growth of its parent company, Unlimited Group, with profits before interest and tax rising 17% to £10.2m. Standout work from the shop includes "Choose kindness" for Simple, named as Unilever’s best-performing campaign of 2019.