What's in an agency name?

Alison Ray
By Alison Ray | 13 November 2023
Alison Ray.

Following WPP's decision to merge Wunderman Thompson and VMLY&R merger to create VML, Town Square's general manager Alison Ray, who began her advertising career at George Patts - a former incarnation of what has become the VML mega agency - asks why don't agency brands matter anymore?

I knew from the movement I saw it. On Melbourne’s Collins Street tram in 2002. The sign said George Patterson Partners, proudly displayed on the old George’s building. And I declared “I’m going to work there one day”. One year later, I did. It wasn’t called that anymore. It was George Patts. Then it became GPY&R. Then VMLY&R. And as of now, just VML. Which includes Wunderman Thompson. But I guess VMLY&R+WT didn’t work.

I left at the GPY&R stage, for an agency so famous they had their own marketing framework in my uni books. FCB. Which was once Foote Cone & Belding. Which became Draftfcb while I’m there. Then just Draft. Then fades away. By that stage I was at Simon Richards. Which became Clemenger Harvie Edge, which became CHE, which is now CHEP.

Heading to Perth for a stint, Market United became The Brand Agency. I almost joined Meerkats, which later joined Wunderman Thompson to become WunderKats (I think), but now are part of the newly formed VML. Which would have taken me full circle.

Of all my adult jobs, only two companies still exist (including the independent I currently work at). The other is a WPP company, so give it some time.

Is the problem that the market is flooded with agencies that all kind of do the same thing? Is it that accountants run the world and mergers make sense to bottom lines? Or is it that all good things must come to an end?

Perhaps it just reflects the fleeting nature of what we do. Communication happens in the moment - here today, gone tomorrow. Only the very, very special are remembered. I spent two of the hardest years of my life launching a phone that revolutionised how we saw mobiles and outsold the iPod. Two years of late nights, early mornings, tears, flights, fights and as always, more fun than being an accountant. Nobody has this phone anymore – it's barely in the market now. If I told my kids “I launched the rzor” they’d ignore me and keep watching other people play computer games on YouTube.

As an industry we tell our clients that brands matter. But don’t our own brands matter? While a part of me cannot lament the fact that the names of “white men who did things” aren’t around anymore, part of me feels a sadness. A sadness that what was great about our industry – these historical brands of independent, profound creativity and inventiveness are gone. Not forgotten. But gone. I’m sure the people who work at VML will still have the late nights, early mornings, tears, flights, fights, lots of fun and I hope lot of success.

But I’m not sure that anyone on the tram going past the non-descript buildings home to the holding company campuses is declaring “I’m going to work there one day”.

On a side note, in 1999 I met a boy on a tram. I came home to tell my mother I’d met the man I was going to marry. I didn’t. But clearly 20-year-old me had a penchant for dramatic statements made on public transport.

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