Cannes Lions

Unilever's Weed on why agency mashups fail and GDPR could hurt

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The Unilever logo sits on the Unilever NV headquarter offices in Rotterdam, Netherlands.
The Unilever logo sits on the Unilever NV headquarter offices in Rotterdam, Netherlands. Credit: Jasper Juinen/Bloomberg

Among the more interesting questions asked of Keith Weed at Cannes is whether he may be a candidate to replace Martin Sorrell as WPP CEO. He won't comment on that query, raised at a press conference today, but he talked a lot about other things, like his concerns about his current job as Unilever chief marketing and communications officer. Those include GDPR, putting more bricks in the walls of the walled gardens and testing to make his agency model work better.

He also touched on why he doesn't think something like Procter & Gamble Co.'s agency-of-rivals idea will work. Here are some highlights:

On whether Europe's General Data Policy Regulation will lead digital platforms to restrict access to user data and marketers' ability to track performance:

"You're right to put your finger on a potential risk. We need to manage through it. The idea is to actually make the whole approach on data better. And wouldn't it be a shame if, as you suggest, it went the other way and we had less transparency and third-party verification? …If we start to see that happen, you might hear me speak about it. My mother always said a problem shared is a problem solved."

What he thinks of rival Procter & Gamble Co.'s 'Best Talent' model, in which rival agencies come together within a single shop:

"I don't comment on what other people are doing. But what we're doing is looking at ways within holding companies of pulling away talent from their different agencies. I think it's quite difficult to pull in ultimately competitors. It's even a challenge within holding companies. When you get them together in the room from different agencies, and you have different [profit-and-loss statements], they hold it together in the room, then as they start walking down the corridor outside you see it start to fall apart. But that's not surprising, because you have a different set of egos, different set of P&Ls, different set of objectives."

On what that proper integration might be:

"We actually have trials around some different agency models [involving four brands and two holding companies he declined to name]. I'm saying everyone on the team needs to be on the same P&L."

Weed says fragmentation of media is leading to fragmentation of agencies, and, too often, of brand messages. Unilever's model experiments revolve around "an overall leader" who "makes the agency work in a more end-to-end approach."

Why he doesn't want media re-bundled with creative:

"The media piece is such a highly specialized approach, you need experts. You need to work with the best media agency, but if you don't have the best [internal] agency people, how do you know you have the best media agency? Just because someone turns up with dark glasses and a bit of stubble doesn't mean they're a media expert."

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