If the wider ad industry was shocked at the sudden departure of Y&R London’s management team, as the agency became absorbed into the awkwardly named VMLY&R, this can have been nothing compared with the reaction of that team itself.
Called into an office on Wednesday one by one, they met an HR flunky, who had been flown in especially for the task, to be told that their services were no longer required. VML had in effect taken over Y&R London, much as the VML network has been given the whip hand over Y&R in the new set-up.
There’s little room for sentiment in this business and the move seems to make strategic sense as WPP tries to make sense of its bloated brand portfolio (even if VML has hardly set the UK market alight with excitement). But it seemed a remarkably brutal, and perhaps rushed, treatment given that the team – Paul Lawson, Jonathan Burley and Katie Lee – had all just been given carte blanche to rebuild Y&R London by global president David Patton. But then he was let go too. All are said to be "in discussions" about future roles within WPP.
Just a few weeks ago, Lawson and Burley participated in a Campaign podcast ahead of the publication of a magazine interview with the trio. The podcast was fun – much like the pair themselves – but was revealing in how small the London operation had become. The interview was a bit more challenging, pointing out the problems that Y&R London had still to overcome (maybe I was a bit too critical). For that reason, it wasn’t universally popular within the agency at the time of publication.
The interview asked the question "Why should we care?" about Y&R London. Well, aside from this being a team that had appeared to have the guts and developed a plan to turn around its creative and new-business reputation but was not given the opportunity to do so, there’s undoubtedly a human element to this. With a pen stroke and without much apparent thought for the undoubted and proven talent involved, they were stricken from the VMLY&R organogram. That sounds careless to me.
While a little – well, let’s face it, a lot of – colour has now been bleached from advertising’s face, other agencies must also be pondering their fate. I should imagine that there are a few squeaky bums over in Knightsbridge should the heavily tipped prospect of JWundermanT become a reality.
Jeremy Lee is contributing editor at Campaign