Reorganizing the organization

—JEFF DACK on how he wants the new Wunderman Thompson Canada structured to create value for clients—

Anyone who has ever created anything knows that making that thing simple can be, well, hard.

Keeping an idea true to its core, and applying the tunnel vision necessary to ensure it gets executed flawlessly, is always a challenge.

Same applies when creating (or recreating) an agency and its structure.

I recently wrote about my first 30 days at Wunderman Thompson Canada and how I was privileged to lead this new entity of three legacy agencies becoming one.

The honeymoon has been fabulous, but now real life begins. It is time to figure out our how: How we operate more effectively and efficiently, with a future-focus built around our clients, culture and craft.

First step on the “how journey” is to take a hard look at how our people work and what they actually work on.

And (perhaps to nobody’s surprise) we have found that we have too few people working on too many projects. In our opinion, clients need a greater depth of expertise, understanding and relationship-building with their agency practitioners.

It’s one thing for me, as a leader, to check-in with a client to ensure that all is well (or not) but in my humble opinion it is far more valuable for our clients to spend quality time with our designers, strategists, project managers and others—to really unpack their thinking and see how it can affect the trajectory of their business.

The “how journey” has led to a destination built around reorganizing our structure to create deeper meaning and greater value for our clients.

Takes one to know one

One of the greatest career choices I ever made was to become a marketing leader in a CPG company and experience life on the other side of the table. I learned quickly as a client how I wanted to be treated by my agency team. It had nothing to do with having my hand held through a strategic process, or being escorted around a set on a shoot day, and everything to do with thinking of the agency as an extension of our team.

Frankly, if we could solve the marketing challenge in-house, we did. Now, fast-forward to today and as an agency leader I look at this dynamic through the same lens, encouraging our teams to understand that our clients are the sun, and we orbit around them. If they can solve their challenges themselves, they will, so we’d better be offering great solutions.

We have taken steps to achieve this client-centric vision by creating dedicated client teams (call them pods, or portfolio groups). Our large, national staff of talented brand-building practitioners has been divided into cross-functional teams and a series of tenants exist to ensure consistency with regards to team size, responsibilities, expectations, and complementary functional expertise.

Being connected more directly and deeply with our clients also means a better understanding of the various problems we’re really trying to solve and an ability to discover opportunities beyond the brief at hand.

To the earlier point, when we treat our clients as our sun, it also means they are an energy source for the people that work on their brands. These are unique, interesting people who come from different backgrounds, have different skill-sets, capabilities and ways of thinking—the lifeblood of creativity. It’s early days, but our people are loving the collision of new ways of approaching work. It’s a distinctive benefit to share focus for a client but approach the work we do from so many different angles and points of view.

One area I’m super excited about from a functional expertise perspective is our delivery services team. This team is an example of applying the best of the old world horizontally, and enhancing it with today’s technology, using an evidence-based approach to producing everything we produce.

This team helps the makers make better by codifying what works (and what doesn’t) and ensuring that we are all learning from successes and failures. We then adjust and improve based on the data we have to inform our processes. Who woulda’ thunk that an ex-creative would be so jazzed about end-to-end processes.

I’ll spare you the details, but overall, we have definitely moved our peoples’ cheese on them. The result is we are now set up to better serve our clients with greater agility by acting small, staying nimble, but doing so with national scale for our national clients.

What we make dictates how we make it

We did an internal audit, and it was surprising to learn that only 25% of our work is what you would consider traditional advertising, specifically TV, radio, print production, etc. The other 75% revolves around the end-to-end marketing services we offer. As such, to move from a traditional advertising agency model to our vision of being a customer experience powerhouse in Canada, we need to re-examine how we deploy our talent base. If we aren’t making that many ads, why are we set-up like an ad agency?

We strongly believe that surrounding our clients with a dedicated group of cross-functionally diverse people from various disciplines, backgrounds and points-of-view, all collaborating to bring better value to the brands we represent, can only help bring our CX vision to life. We no longer have account service, or creative, or strategy departments. We have insert-client-name-here departments. This structure ensures we will have the “right” mix of people at the table, working in an agile function, silo-free, to deliver a better-quality work product.

Walking the talk

While I am certainly not suggesting that organizing an agency around its clients is a new, or even a unique idea, I do believe the execution of it all can be. We recently brought many of our North American clients together to learn and be inspired at our “Transform 19” conference in Seattle.

There, I heard a great quote from one of our CX leaders who said “While a brand makes a promise, customer experience is how the brand keeps that promise.” Well, we cannot be hypocrites in our own brand pursuits—our promise is to inspire growth for ambitious brands. How we keep that promise is through greater depth, breadth and understanding that comes from having a team surrounding those brands. The idea is simple, but nobody said that simple was easy.


Jeff Dack is CEO of Wunderman Thompson Canada. His agency career has taken him from TBWA/Chiat Day to Zig, Cossette, GWP Brand Engineering, Taxi, Jamieson Laboratories (client-side as a CPG marketing leader), Lowe Roche, and Carat.

Jeff Dack