In consulting with organizations and considering the next career move leading marketing and digital transformation, I offer this tale of how to build a successful operation within a larger global organization.

Jud Linville, CEO, Global Cards and Consumer Services at Citi was recently interviewed at Duke’s Fuqua School of Business. Jud said that in major organization’s, leaders need to understand the notion of “leadership without absolute control.” In the advertising industry this could not be more prescient.

A profit and loss (P&L) statement is the true definition of a double-edged sword. It cuts leaders in many directions.

In the past few weeks Ogilvy & Mather a WPP agency announced that they are disbanding the traditional P&L and merging divisions under a new unified leadership team.

Before addressing the Agency system, understand why the P&L was created. A P&L statement was created to simplify financial management and measure performance of business units, lines of business, accounts and divisions, essentially anything that needed a defined measurement. The P&L became- a weapon when management of major agencies made it the core measurement of individual performance. Yes, the P&L should be a measure of performance but it should not be the sole measure.

A great example was when I created digital@jwt, the digital division of J. Walter Thompson. I had a small P&L for the NY office, but more broadly a phantom P&L for all of North America. The goal of digital@jwt was to change the way the agency operated and delivered integrated communications.

Fortunately for the division and unfortunately for me personally, my compensation was not tied to the phantom P&L. My motivation was building the best digital services offering for J Walter Thompson’s clients while architecting an internal service offering that could operationally succeed. And boy, did we succeed. We grew from nothing to close to nine figures in revenue in three years and from no awareness to featured on the front page of the Wall Street Journal, Wired Magazine, Adweek and AdAge. Our impact on the perceptions of J. Walter Thompson were immeasurable.

Digital@jwt won Unilever, DeBeers, Nasdaq, HSBC, Merrill Lynch, Sun Microsystems, The US Marines, Kraft and the list goes on. We executed multiple acquisitions and a hub-and-spoke architecture for a business unit that worked within the construct of a multi-P&L global business.

Why did it work so well? It worked for the simple reason that the leadership of digital@jwt was motivated by one thing; build the greatest digital services organization in the world that was client first creating solutions that drove business results and engaged and entertained their customers. We wanted to create a catalyst to change J. Walter Thompson. Interestingly enough the work my team and I created to this day is the only digital work featured on the J. Walter Thomson website.

We turned the visual into the visceral better than anyone in the industry with platforms like “Design Your Own Engagement Ring” for DeBeers, virtual experiences for the US Marines, the first create your own commercial and edit platform for Unilever’s Lever 2000 and a full redesign of

Things were going well, until the leadership of global JWT and WPP decided that creating a single P&L for all of digital@jwt and merging the division with an independent acquisition called RMG out of the Europe made better sense. Their plan was to separate the business from the individual offices.

Over the course of the next three years, the business was decimated. A digital division that was just starting to fire on all cylinders was dismantled.

Years later I was speaking with the President of one of JWT’s offices who told me he received a call a year after my departure asking if they could roll back the structure to the way it was when I led digital@jwt. The answer was simply “that egg has been scrambled.”

Most would argue JWT never returned to the level of digital prominence the company had when digital@jwt existed.

With Ogilvy’s pronouncement this week that they are dismantling the business units within individual P&Ls to creating a unified company, I would offer that CEO John Seifert and WPP’s team under Sir Martin Sorrell, give more thorough thought to how the people responsible for each individual office and their offerings are measured. The competition for marketing services from consultants, agencies and new entrants has never been hotter. The challenge for agencies is they are not structured and most of their employees are not trained to deliver integrated solutions for brands.

Take a hard look at what motivates a leader. Is their motivation to deliver the best strategic, integrated communications for their client’s and their client’s consumers, or is it to deliver best performance for the holding company?

“Ac dolor ac adipiscing amet bibendum nullam, lacus molestie ut libero nec diam
et, pharetra sodales, feugiat ullamcorper id tempor id vitae.”

-James T. Kirk



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