The World: Has Enfatico got its justifiable comeuppance?

As WPP's shop set up to handle Dell is submerged into Y&R Brands, Ann Cooper asks if the model was flawed from the off.

Enfatico, WPP's standalone global behemoth initially built to service one single client, Dell, has been silent of late. Once known for its self-promotion and its grandiose pronouncements ("We will jointly develop what we hope is the greatest agency in the world"), not only does the company's PR machine offer up a "we have no comment" to a reporter's request for an interview with someone, anyone, from the company, but its blog site "Nextstoryboard", which regularly posts breezy discourses on everything from research analytics to the company's own campaigns, has similarly been conspicuous by its silence for most of April.

No matter. If Enfatico, recently submerged into Y&R Brands following Dell concerns about the company's operational efficiency and creative work, has finally zipped the lip, its critics on the global blogosphere court of public opinion have not. With the 16-month-old company's progress gleefully dissected and criticised by a jury of its often-anonymous peers, the Y&R move constitutes what to many was Enfatico's justifiable and inevitable comeuppance.

Enfatico sources say the agency has been given 90 days by Dell to get things right. Peter Stringham, the Y&R chief executive, who visited Enfatico's headquarters in Austin, Texas this week, is understood to have told staff that they should focus on nothing but Dell for the immediate future. However, in a company-wide e-mail, he was positive about the Enfatico model, which he indicated would be around for a long time.

It all began in December 2007, with an exclusive three-year, $4.5 billion partnership between the Texas-based Dell and WPP, to which the client had just awarded its global account, previously at some 850 different agencies worldwide. In an effort to integrate marketing efforts, Casey Jones, Dell's vice-president of global marketing, who had joined Dell earlier in 2007, wanted to rethink the structure of the client-service agency model.

Aided and abetted by Mark Jarvis, Dell's chief marketing officer, the aim was to create a better agency structure by having media, creative, account management etc under a single P&L and to align the agency's profit motive with client/agency success. (This was reportedly one of WPP's key selling points when it landed the Dell business.) Initially dubbed Project Da Vinci, by March 2008, Ken Segall, a former TBWA\ executive with extensive experience working on Apple ("think different"), IBM and Intel, had signed on as the chief creative officer. Meanwhile, a self-imposed deadline to have a chief executive in place came and went.

Two months later, the former Digitas executive Torrence Boone was named chief executive, reporting directly to Sir Martin Sorrell, the WPP boss. Boone had been a top executive at the management consultant Bain & Company, where he'd encouraged new organisational structures and cultures among advertisers and agencies' clients. By June, Da Vinci had morphed into Enfatico, a musical term meaning "to play with emphasis".

In September, Boone proclaimed Enfatico to be in great shape. "We have close to 1,000 staff worldwide, and we have transitioned 90 to 95 per cent of the work that was accounted for by the 800-plus agencies around the globe," he said. He put ad industry carping down to "people threatened by change. We are trying to do something different. It's the largest global agency start-up in history." Yet, work was slow to surface.

In October 2008, Enfatico broke its first campaign for Dell in India targeting small- and medium-sized business. But, meanwhile, Mother New York, which had won a place on the Dell roster in May the previous year, continued to work on briefs for the client, despite the "exclusive" nature of the WPP deal.

In November, Jones suddenly left Dell, followed in December by his fellow Enfatico architect, Jarvis. By February 2009, Enfatico laid off 8 per cent of its workforce, citing economic difficulties. Finally, in March, the company launched its first major US work for Dell, for the ultrathin Adamo laptop.

In April 2009 came the an-nouncement that Enfatico would be folded into Y&R, just a couple of days after it lost a pitch for Vonage. (It had Dell's blessing to pursue other clients once it was up and running.) Enfatico issued a statement calling the move a "strategic decision" that "responds to the current economic environment by allowing Enfatico to tap Y&R's available resources for Dell and other clients". Boone was to report to Stringham. Ironically, soon after that, Enfatico won its first non-Dell business: Progress Software.

So what went wrong? According to industry observers, everything, from the agency's pretentious naming process, to the way it was structured, to its lack of talent, its questionable creative work and infighting within WPP, as well as the 800lb gorilla in the room: the global economic downturn. Some attributed Enfatico's woes to WPP building the wrong type of agency for the project, claiming that Boone wasn't involved enough from the start. Others concluded that there wasn't enough work in just one account to attract the necessary calibre of creative talent.

"The failure of WPP to make Enfatico work successfully shows that integration only works when you truly have one P&L and when people are not operating in their own micro environments," Drew Thomson, the chairman of the independent network Iris Worldwide, says. "Otherwise, when the going gets tough, they're looking after their own agenda and models like Enfatico go to the wall."

Jones says: "Were there mistakes made? Yes, there were ... If anything, they were legitimate concerns about the pace at which we tried to implement change? How much executive agreement at Dell had to be achieved. How many 'corporate antibodies' would attack the infant at birth and choke it for holding up a mirror and reflecting back an image of their own incompetence?

"For better, for worse, I was a prime mover in those meetings, recruited by Michael Dell and given very specific instructions, followed by the words: 'We need dramatic change. And my tolerance for risk is much higher than in years past.'"