WPP on a streak

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Advertising Age three years ago coined a term-the superagency-to describe how the likes of WPP, Omnicom, Interpublic and Publicis Groupe were stepping up their roles in winning and managing key accounts. Throughout 2004, none took the concept to greater heights than WPP Group and its chief executive, Martin Sorrell.

WPP prevailed in many of 2004's biggest reviews, including those for financial services giant HSBC (estimated $600 million in billings) and electronics maker Samsung (estimated $200 million). These feats were noteworthy because the pitches took place as WPP pursued its quest to buy Grey Global Group, which, when that deal closes as expected in early 2005, will bring into WPP's fold clients like Procter & Gamble Co. and reinforce WPP's No. 2 position behind Omnicom .

WPP stood out on several fronts to become the Superagency of the Year. "Martin Sorrell is incredibly hands-on," says Michael Nathanson, global media analyst at Sanford Bernstein. "He's ever-traveling, ever-present, one of those CEOs who practically live and die with the company."

A strategy to build its offerings globally beyond media and advertising bore fruit. Secondly, WPP created tailored teams, comprising executives from WPP units, to pitch and handle the accounts. While not unique to WPP, the approach is one that WPP has executed better than its rivals have.

"Clients," Mr. Sorrell noted, speaking recently to investors, "aren't as focused on the brands of the agencies; they're more concerned with solutions." Some industry watchers question how far the model can be extended without damaging the integrity of the parent company's networks. Says Mr. Sorrell: "It is a question of balance. You can go too far in encouraging people to work together and you can go too far leaving them alone."