WPP to fold Geometry into VMLY&R as leaders give glimpse into commerce business

VMLY&R Commerce forms part of WPP CEO Mark Read's broader plan to make commerce a 'powerhouse capability'.

Kaminkow: will lead VMLY&R Commerce
Kaminkow: will lead VMLY&R Commerce

WPP is folding seven-year-old brand-activation agency Geometry into a new company under VMLY&R, focused solely on commerce.

The business, which will be called VMLY&R Commerce, will combine Geometry's relatively newly established expertise in creative commerce with the same expertise under VMLY&R.

It will be led by Beth Ann Kaminkow, currently global chief executive of Geometry. Kaminkow will report to Jon Cook, global CEO of VMLY&R.

VMLY&R Commerce will operate as a distinct company within the VMLY&R global network and begin trading from 1 January. From this point, Geometry will no longer exist as a brand, except in Japan, where the agency operates under the Geometry-Ogilvy banner. That agency, which has been touted as a "unique case", will continue to operate under a separate P&L but will have access to VMLY&R Commerce's capabilities.

It is not yet known how many people will work for the new VMLY&R Commerce, but Geometry and VMLY&R have a combined staff of more than 11,000 employees across 80 countries worldwide.

'Capitalising on growth'

In an exclusive interview with Campaign Asia-Pacific this morning, Geometry's Kaminkow and VMLY&R's Cook characterised the merging of the two agencies as a means of "capitalising on growth", rather than finding efficiencies.

"Both companies are hiring in the commerce space, so we are [launching the new company] to capitalise on the growth we are both seeing at a bigger scale," Cook said.

The agency will be hiring some "big new key roles" to support Kaminkow and is positioning this as an opportunity for existing Geometry staff to "step into an even bigger role" as part of the larger VMLY&R network.

"It's the opposite of shrinking of opportunity or shrinking of roles at any level, but rather there's an explosion of more to do, because in one company we now have the chance to do more for the clients that we share, and for everybody that was in Geometry, there's a bigger canvas," he said.

While agency mergers usually result in a contracting of roles (as occured when VMLY&R was formed from a merger of VML and Y&R in 2018), Cook assured Campaign that this is a "bigger stage for everyone, including middle management".

The leadership will be looking to identify efficiencies "in the back office" between now and January, which could see some roles affected, Cook added. The integration of the two agencies' teams and assets will continue through 2021.

VMLY&R Commerce will build on the "creative commerce" vision that Kaminkow developed for Geometry when she took over leadership of the agency in April 2019.

The former Kantar executive immediately set about repositioning the agency around commerce after identifying it as a "massive opportunity" with clients.

Up until Kaminkow joined, Geometry – which was formed in 2013 by merging Ogilvy Action, G2 and JWT Action – had built its expertise as a brand experience agency, offering clients the ability to reach customers in key touchpoints along the customer journey.

"Geometry's heritage was really in traditional and physical retail," Kaminkow told Campaign Asia-Pacific. "When we look at the world now as it gets more digital, we feel like the sweet spot for brands and then for agency partners is in helping clients navigate this shift. It's what we call 'unified commerce'."

Geometry has developed a proprietary platform called "Living Commerce", which uses data insights to help clients understand consumer needs and behaviours and direct personalised communications to them. That platform will form a key pillar of VMLY&R Commerce.

The company will be focused on connecting the dots between sales, transactions and conversions with emotions, engagement and experience, Kaminkow said.

VMLY&R Commerce forms part of WPP CEO Mark Read's broader plan to make commerce a "powerhouse capability" within WPP, Kaminkow said.

Eventually, smaller agencies will align under the VMLY&R Commerce global banner, and the company will look to acquire complementary businesses in the commerce technology stack, Kaminkow suggested.

'Breaking down silos'

The business will work "hand-in-hand" with media network GroupM, which has also been building its muscle in the commerce space.

"Breaking down those silos and bringing our teams closer together around vertical expertise like this is becoming more fundamental to the way our clients are approaching their marketing media mix," Kaminkow said.

The news follows hot on the heels of last week's merger of WPP agencies AKQA and Grey to form AKQA Group. That merger was designed to create an "industry powerhouse" that combines creativity, innovation and brand-building at scale, WPP said.

Beyond their business, Cook and Kaminkow said they are also culturally aligned. "We have worked as colleagues in WPP for some time, we have a mutual feeling about how to think about culture and inclusivity – these are things that are just as important as building capability," Cook said.

"Sometimes that gets lost in successful ventures. People focus so much on capability as they should, but that ingredient that we both believe in about culture and inclusivity, it is one of the keys to long-term success."

A version of this article first appeared on Campaign Asia-Pacific.