Opinion: Perspective - WPP in no doubt it must have creativity at its core

Omnicom rules at the top of the new Gunn Report on the world's most creative networks. OK, that's hugely predictable, but it is also wonderfully timely as its rival WPP's creative credentials come uncomfortably under the spotlight.

TBWA is the world's most creatively awarded network according to Gunn, followed by BBDO then DDB. Sweet hat-trick. Publicis Groupe claims the next two slots with Saatchi & Saatchi and Leo Burnett, and finally one of WPP's four creative networks - Ogilvy & Mather - makes it to number six, with JWT coming in at number nine.

Actually, when you think about it, these aren't bad rankings for either of the WPP giants (and even Grey scraped into the Top 20). JWT has been bounding up the table in recent years (from 15th in 2000). Mind you, if the new HSBC work (slashed of any of the warmth, style and humour of its Lowe-originated predecessor) is any reflection of the agency's new creative philosophy, then the chances of it leaping higher up the rankings are far from certain.

Meanwhile O&M, although it has slipped two places this year, makes a respectable showing that will surprise anyone who scrutinises only its European work; the Asian offices continue to be O&M's real creative powerhouse and shore up the network's creative credentials. But for the WPP chief executive, Sir Martin Sorrell, surveying the latest rankings will surely only add fuel to his reported concerns about the creative standards of his agencies. When the WPP network heads met recently in New York for an annual pow-wow with Sorrell, they were left in no doubt that improving creativity had to be a priority.

And nascent signs that WPP might be about to get itself a lean, keen creative micro-network in the form of United seem already to be crumbling. New York's Berlin Cameron - the creative heart-beat of United - has been WPP's most notable creative firepower over the past few years.

Perhaps that over-reliance, and the pressure it has put on Andy Berlin and his creative team, might explain the agency's recent dire performance.

First, the agency lost Coke in North America, then last week it was ditched by Samsung. Now United's hold on its founding Alfa Romeo account is apparently shaky.

WPP is perhaps the most formidable opponent internationally when it comes to offering a package of marketing services solutions. In fact, WPP has been so successful in this that perhaps its individual networks have not had to face up to their own creative inadequacies quite as soberly as they otherwise might.

But big international clients are increasingly putting at least as much emphasis on creativity as on global client servicing or seamless international integration. Unilever gave Omo to Bartle Bogle Hegarty; Procter & Gamble has said it will now place serious emphasis on creative awards when apportioning its accounts.

With Omnicom now trying to take on WPP with its own vision of integration - turning each of its creative networks into mini holding companies offering integrated solutions - WPP desperately needs to increase its creative impetus. For all that WPP is a fully-rounded marketing services operation, it is still the creative agencies that have the ability to leverage client relationships through the line and across borders. At the moment, they seem to be the weak link in the WPP chain.

Every now and then a rumour so delicious - seemingly ridiculous, even - wriggles out that cannot be substantiated yet certainly deserves to be shared. The latest concerns Omnicom and McCann Erickson. The rumour goes that Omnicom has a pre-nup with some of Interpublic's shareholders that if there's the chance of breaking up the IPG assets, then Omnicom will sail in and snap up McCann and Universal. Now that really would give WPP something to think about.


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