Many months ago one of my daughters told me that she learned in school that sharks must keep swimming to stay alive. I cannot think of any better analogy to the advertising agency industry. In a world of constant competitive pressure, demanding consumers, and brands that see CMO turnover every two years, success depends on making proactive improvements and leading your clients to what’s next. That has been one of the keys to success at Bridge Worldwide, a digital agency where I lead the strategy practice, and it is why I am thrilled to announce that we are merging our company with three other leading agencies (Schematic, Quasar, and BLUE) to create a new, global business: Possible Worldwide. And I am excited to be taking on the role of Chief Strategy Officer in this new venture. Here’s an official Wall Street Journal story of the breaking news.
Some reporters have already leaped to the conclusion that this was “just another roll-up by an agency holding company,” but this is very far from the truth. In reality, this merger was completely our idea.
The story behind Possible began back in fall 2009. My fellow execs and I were going through our annual planning process and we recognized a growing need to create scale in geography and services in order to serve the evolving needs of our clients. We decided to reach out to a few other digital agencies within our holding company, WPP. Although sometimes competitors for new business, we all joined WPP around the same time and periodically compared notes as we built our businesses over the past five years. Eventually we broached the topic of doing something together, and decided to meet in person but away from our offices. We went to Cancun, Mexico, to test the waters of working together—figuring that if it worked for climate-change treaties, it could work for us.
Our purpose in meeting in Cancun was not only to see if our businesses would match up together, but, more importantly, to get a feel for how we could get along personally—so we shared our personal hopes and dreams, our visions for changing the advertising industry, and the cultural glue that holds our offices together. We made enough progress in that first meeting that we got together again in London, then New Delhi, and followed by Singapore and New York City.
With each meeting—about every two to three months—we made more progress on building a model for a new network while elevating office leaders to take our places. Not every agency we spoke with chose to continue the journey, but some acquisition targets have specifically said they wanted to throw in with our group. Through it all, our parent company, represented by Mark Read (WPP Strategy Director and CEO of WPP Digital) encouraged and aided our progress along the way—yet continually gave us the freedom to make our own key business decisions.
And so after many months of planning, we are putting a new team together. It is a team of entrepreneurs who have all built successful digital agencies independently, and who have chosen to come together to create something bigger and make an even more positive impact on marketing and society.
Possible Worldwide: An Interactions Agency
As you might imagine, it has not been completely frictionless for a dozen or so entrepreneurial leaders to come together and agree on the future of an agency. The naming process was a pain, as always, and many late night and early morning conference calls were organized to sort out the innumerable details. But perhaps the simplest choice was our new, combined brand positioning. Early on in our merger discussions we felt energy around the idea of creating “interactions” as the focus of our work and what we believe lies at the heart of the future of marketing.
We struggled with categorization of company as a “digital agency” for two reasons. First, digital is becoming “everything” in marketing and media and more or less table stakes in the future of business. Second, it does nothing to describe the specific skills or beliefs that we have. On the other hand, “advertising agency” is limiting in that it mainly conjures up a world of interruptive messages. We wished to classify ourselves as something beyond these mental shortcuts to something more, an interactions agency, and I couldn’t describe it better than with the words our team came up with:
“Possible is an interactions agency. That means we help our clients create experiences that deliver something of real value to their customers, whether that be utility, entertainment or community. These interactions, or platforms, are driven by big ideas and customer insight, and have a lasting life beyond a single campaign. Advertising serves as a function, too: Not just to broadcast a message, but to invite consumers into a larger, longitudinal brand experience that consumers can engage with.”
The facts and figures behind our new company still give me goose bumps: 1,000 people, 18 offices, and a client list that includes several of the biggest marketers in the world: AT&T, Barclays, BBC, Comcast, Dell, Dow Corning, General Mills, Luxottica, Mazda, Microsoft, Nokia, Orange, P&G, Samsung, SAP, Southern California Edison, and Starwood.
You might be wondering what this means for Marketing with Meaning? Am I going to shut down this blog and Twitter feed? Hell no! In fact, the formation of Possible creates an even bigger, global platform for the movement that we launched here nearly three years ago. In our company description we affirm that Possible Worldwide “is a global agency that creates meaningful and measurable interactive marketing.” We’ll be taking this movement to more countries and more clients than we ever could have on our own.
As regular readers know, my personal mission is to make a dent in the universe by helping to lead a shift in marketing from interruption to meaning—with the aim of improving business results, doing more for people, and creating jobs that we love to come to in the morning. With this new agency and new role, I feel that achieving this mission is even more Possible.