New Dell, WPP agency Da Vinci prompts industry discussion

ROUND ROCK, TX: Dell's recent selection of WPP to help create one agency, named Da Vinci, to handle all of the company's marketing communications has revitalized discussions about agency integration and the marketing talent pool.

ROUND ROCK, TX: Dell's recent selection of WPP to help create one agency, named Da Vinci, to handle all of the company's marketing communications has revitalized discussions about agency integration and the marketing talent pool.

The controversial move, which is unprecedented in scope, will bring Dell's entire external marketing communications function under one profit and loss statement. The agency and Dell will also co-invest in a significant analytics tool that will map the
efficacy of all marketing disciplines against each other and provide measurement for marketing initiatives against business goals. Dell will invest $4.5 billion in billings in Da Vinci over the next three years.

Publicis, Havas, Omnicom, and Interpublic Group all vied for the account, with Interpublic Group joining WPP as finalist.

Andy Lark, VP of communications for Dell, told PRWeek that the agency is expected to staff more than 1,000 people. Dell expects Da Vinci to be up and running by March 1, 2008. WPP referred requests for comment to Dell.

Both Lark and Casey Jones, Dell's VP of marketing, expect that this approach will unify its brand message, eliminate agency squabbles for new business within the Dell empire, and direct its external communicators towards one discipline-agnostic goal.

"We're looking for an agency relationship where PR, media, Web site analytics, creative, and planning are all fixed on one objective - which is shareholder value for Dell," Jones said on November 3, before the agency was selected.

The announcement last week was a source of much conversation for executives at agencies both in WPP and outside of the holding company. Although no one would speak on record, unsurprisingly those inside of WPP were excited at the opportunity and those outside had doubts about Da Vinci's prospects. Most of the cynicism had to do with the subpar history of marketing-holding company integration and Dell's rapid plan for implementation.

Sources both inside and outside of WPP expressed some skepticism that such a large agency could be up and running in such a short time, but one holding-company executive said, "They had to draw a line in the sand somewhere."

Clients have previously worked with holding companies to create discipline-specific, integrated agencies in the past, most famously Bank of America, IBM, and Procter & Gamble.

Critics pointed to those instances as significant evidence that mass-scale integration rarely works, but proponents countered that the integration would be built from the ground-up, rather than fused together from separate parts.

At the time of the selection, Dell had more than 860 marketing communications agencies globally.

"All of [our 860-plus agencies] were hired to provide point solutions to problems that Dell was facing from a marketing standpoint. However, all of the data from [those agencies'] efforts is sitting in little pockets all over Dell," Jones said. "There's no central point to aggregate all of that information and all of those activities. It just can't be done. So some kind of consolidation is necessary.

"We have to stop buying wheels, engines, fenders, windshields, and seats all from different manufacturers and try to assemble them in the office," Jones added. "We just have to ask for a really fast car."

Critics also expressed disbelief that Dell and WPP could find 1,000 employees period, let alone in three months, due to a marketing talent crunch. However, even if all of the employees came directly from WPP, which is unlikely, that would be about 1% of the holding company's 100,000 staffers, including associates.

The announcement was expected to affect WPP agency GCI Group, which has long held Dell's PR account. It would be assumed that GCI or key staffers - because of its legacy relationship with the brand - will be an integral part of the WPP team servicing Dell.

Some wondered whether GCI Group CEO Jeff Hunt might join the new agency, and what that might mean for GCI. Hunt referred questions to Dell.

Lark, in an e-mail, said, "GCI, our largest incumbent, will play an ongoing role in the new agency."

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