WPP AUNZ’s Jens Monsees on the local implications of the AKQA & Grey merger

WPP has merged AKQA and Grey to form a new network model, AKQA Group, which has been devised to meet ‘heightened demand for digital transformation and technology-driven capabilities’.

In Australia, this will result in White Grey, the WPP AUNZ offering from Grey Group, merging with AKQA. WPP AUNZ CEO, Jens Monsees told Mumbrella the merger was “fantastic opportunity for our clients and also for our teams” and aligns with his strategy for the holding group to offer “creativity empowered by tech”.

“It’s a great opportunity because at the beginning of the year I laid out our strategy for WPP AUNZ, obviously in alignment with the global strategy, and we said two things: we said we want to offer creativity empowered by tech,” Monsees said.

“And therefore, bringing a very creative, vibrant, and also digital savvy brand like White Grey together with a very strong digital implementer and an experienced brand like AKQA, I think makes it easier for our clients to tap into the creative, and the digital, and the experience space.

“And that is the other part of our strategy. Fewer and stronger brands make it easy to navigate for our clients, all our solution offerings and our portfolio.”

Monsees said the merger of AKQA and White Grey aligned with his transformation plan

White Grey is led by CEO Lee Simpson, who has been in the role since 2018. At the top of AKQA locally is Brian Vella, the Asia Pacific managing partner.

The local structure of the new AKQA Group has not been revealed. Monsees said “[at] the moment we are working with the teams of people in both brands and especially also the clients [on] how we bring it together.”

He said the leadership structure will be revealed when they are ready.

“I’m a big fan of structure follows strategy. So what is the strategy? What is the new offering to our clients and partners?” Monsees said.

White Grey is the result of the local merger of Grey and The White Agency in 2017. The White Agency was a member of STW Communications, which WPP took a 61% stake in in 2015, resulting in WPP AUNZ.

Globally, the merger between Grey and AKQA is the latest in a series driven by WPP as it transforms to expand digital capabilities. In 2018, the holding group announced the merger of Y&R with its digitally-focused cousin VML, and Wunderman with JWT.

AKQA and White Grey will merge in Australia

The leadership structure of AKQA Group will be of great interest to the market as WPP AUNZ has a complicated history with appointing joint leaders of a newly merged agency. Co-CEOs of VMLY&R, Pete Bosilkovski and Aden Hepburn departed separately from the agency within a year of the merger taking place. Prior to Simpson taking the helm, the White Grey merger was overseen by joint CEOs Paul Worboys and Miles Joyce, both of whom left within weeks of each other in 2018.

Despite in the leadership structure being unconfirmed, Monsees said the merger would not result in redundancies.

“I think it’s actually the other way around,” he said.

“As we announced earlier this year, for WPP AUNZ, as well as for WPP globally, we identified three big growth areas, which is the technology space, heavily growing [in] double digit[s], which is the experience space, also double digit growth, and which is the e-commerce space.

“And following these great opportunities, this is where obviously the merged team will play in the future and we’ll strengthen our offerings and portfolio on that side.”

AKQA has also experienced a number of mergers in the local market. It entered Australia through a partnership with local WPP AUNZ agency, DT, in 2017, installing Vella as its leader. Prior to that DT absorbed another agency in the group, Tongue.

This year, AKQA completed its merger with digital marketing and media consultancy, Switched On.

Monsees said losing the Grey and White brands in the market was not a concern for establishing AKQA Group in Australia as a known entity. He also does not see the need to resign clients due to any conflicts between the two agencies’ rosters may have. Instead he sees opportunity.

“For example, White Grey have great clients like WWF and Volvo, and the enhanced solution suite that is now coming into play enables clients like Volvo to tap into an even broader portfolio,” he said.

“We obviously are in close contact with our clients because that’s also news for them, but I think it’s a fantastic opportunity for our clients and our teams.”

As WPP’s transformation continues to take place, Monsees doesn’t believe another merger will be announced before the year is out, but “we are actively looking at some [merger and acquisition] opportunities, and we are also looking at streamlining some of our minority investments.”

Monsees concluded: “We have our ship in order and hopefully in 2021, be ready to attack.”

On a global level, AKQA founder Ajaz Ahmed and Grey Worldwide CEO Michael Houston will partner to lead the group as chief executive officer and global president and chief operating officer, respectively. The AKQA Group will launch with both the AKQA and Grey brands, and will slowly be integrated into the one business based on client and market need.

Mark Read, the CEO of WPP, said: “Our clients want outstanding creativity, powered by technology expertise and delivered at a global scale. This new company is designed precisely to meet those needs and is another important step forward in building our future-facing offer for clients.”

Over the past five years Grey has won the Adweek global agency of the year award twice, the grand Effie and Effie agency of the year, and 395 Cannes Lions, including agency of the year.

The AKQA Group will have 6,000 people across 50 countries.

Houston said: “This exciting new partnership begins with what consumers expect, clients value, and brands need. Forming a new company that can deliver culture-driving ideas through technology at speed and scale is a potent proposition for our clients, large and small, and will allow us to offer the most powerful creative solutions in the industry.”

Ahmed added it was an ‘unparalleled opportunity’.

“Our goal is to expand horizons, combining the curiosity, ambition, imagination and pioneering spirit of a startup with the reach of a global enterprise,” he said.

“This is an unparalleled opportunity for AKQA and Grey to bring our shared assets to life into a modern, creatively-led company, building upon our inspiring and useful work to create value for our clients, people and communities.”

Jens Monsees will be a keynote speaker at Mumbrella360: Reconnected on day three of the four-day summit, 19 November. Secure your ticket here


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