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J Walter Thompson London is long established as one of the giants of the UK advertising industry, responsible since its creation in the 1920s for a string of much-loved campaigns including Kit Kit, Polo, Andrex, Oxo and BT's 'Beattie' ads. It remains one of the JWT worldwide network's most important hubs. However, after several years of strong growth in the early 2000s, JWT London stumbled mid-decade, losing a couple of significant accounts as well as several important pitches. As a result, billings took a tumble and have been slow to recover. The agency has slipped several places in the annual rankings since 2007, and finally fell out of the top ten in 2011. The main London agency was supported by Manchester-based Cheetham Bell until 2018, when it became a unit of sister network Mediacom.
Click here for a JWT London client listing from Adbrands Account Assignments
Account Gains 2018: Grolsch (Global), The Macallan (Global) Losses: -
Account Gains 2017: Qatar Financial Centre (Global) Losses: HSBC (Global $350m), Edgewell Personal Care (UK), Debenhams (UK), Philadelphia cream cheese (Europe), First Direct (UK)
Account Gains 2016: Blossom Hill wines (UK), Wagamama (UK) Losses: Canon (Europe), Dreams (UK £20m), Mr Kipling (UK), Blue Dragon (UK)
See Leading UK Agencies for other companies
J Walter Thompson London is one of the UK's foremost advertising brands, supported by Manchester-based Cheetham Bell, one of the country's largest regional agencies. However performance has been mercurial since 2005, triggered initially by a series of account losses during 2006, including the substantial Vodafone and Reckitt Benckiser accounts. The effects of this were clearly visible in 2007, in a 25% drop in billings. Having spent three years as the country's #2 agency behind AMV BBDO, JWT tumbled to the #5 place. It regained some ground during the following year before slipping back in 2010 to the #9 spot, its lowest position for more than a decade, following the departure of the Kellogg's account as part of a global realignment.
Further losses in 2011 caused the agency to slide out of the ranking of the UK's Top Ten for the first time in its history. That demotion seems finally to have pricked the new business team into action, and it notched up a series of smaller account wins during 2012. However the loss of the main UK retail business of global client HSBC following a review was a blow in early 2013. Bizarrely, in a complete about-turn, JWT was reawarded the local business only a few months later. However, this was not enough to stop a further decline in billings. For 2014, JWT slumped to #20 in Nielsen's annual ranking, its lowest ever position. There was a modest recovery in 2015, with an increase in Nielsen billings (in Campaign) to £137m. Other key accounts include Debenhams, Johnson & Johnson, Mazda and Nestle. After good performance in 2015 on the new business front, there has been a noticeable slowdown for the current year.
CheethamBellJWT also took a series of hits in 2007 (it had shared the Reckitt business), tumbling from its position as the UK's #1 regional agency in 2004. Billings have slumped from £56m that year to £25m for 2014. There was a recovery to £32m for 2015.
JWT has a number of other operating units located in the UK. Label is a specialist unit within the London agency which manages fashion, beauty, lifestyle and health accounts. In 2005, the main agency set up a specialist inhouse multicultural unit, after the model of US agencies, to focus on producing advertising for black and Asian audiences. Separately branded direct marketing agency Black Cat and the Connect@JWT interactive unit were both folded into the local arm of JWT's RMG:Connect European network, as was Sharpen Troughton Owens Response, the former Red Cell Response, in 2006. RMG Connect was in turn absorbed into the main JWT agency in 2009.
In 2007, JWT London acquired interactive agency Digit, which operates under its original name and also as Digit@JWT. Prism is a specialist sports sponsorship unit. In 2010, the agency created content development arm JWT Entertainment, in a partnership with production companies Tiger Aspect, Freemantle and North One. CheethambellJWT also houses a clutch of specialist units including retail marketing agencies JWT High Street and JWT Retail Attack, design agency Germ and the European hub of JWT's global healthcare brand, health@jwt.
The JWT network is represented in the Republic of Ireland by local agency DDFH&B.
The corporate entity behind JWT is J Walter Thompson Group Ltd, which also controls CheethamBell JWT. For 2015, that company reported gross turnover (billings) of £151.8m, up 2%, and gross profit (net revenue) down marginally to £52.3m. Net profit jumped 30% to £5.1m. There was an average of 421 staff.
Guy Hayward, CEO of JWT London since 2009, resigned in 2011 (initially to join BETC, and later KBS). Rather than appoint a direct replacement, a trio of senior managers were promoted to the position of executive partners, and ran the agency jointly. They were Joe Petyan and James Whitehead (formerly joint managing directors) and Russell Ramsey (executive creative director). That model was revised again at the end of 2016, with Whitehead elevated to the newly restored role of chief executive, London. Petyan was appointed as regional director, Europe, and is also global account director for HSBC. Both report to JWT Europe chairman & CEO Toby Hoare. Russell Ramsey departed in early 2017, to be replaced as ECD by Lucas Peon.
Tracey Follows was appointed as a fourth executive partner for strategy in 2012, but resigned in summer 2014. Carmen Bekker is now management partner. Other senior managers include Neil Godber (head of planning), Dani Bassil (operations director), and Ngen Yap (CFO).
David Bell is CEO of Cheetham Bell in Manchester. Andy Cheetham moved to a part-time role as chairman at the beginning of 2015. Andy Huntingdon and Martin Smith are joint creative directors.
J Walter Thompson first established a London presence in 1894 but the business remained very small, and it was closed in 1916 by new chairman Stanley Resor. Seven years later, JWT re-established a London office on the bidding of what was then its biggest American client, Kraft. In addition to handling advertising in the UK for Kraft, the agency also built up a portfolio of local clients, initially by brokering the purchase of advertising space on their behalf in American newspapers. Thompson had already broken new ground in the US by introducing the concept of field research into the advertising process, and it adopted the same approach in the UK from 1923. Ten years later, the company established the country's first market research agency, the British Marketing Research Bureau, or BMRB. The insights this gave into consumer opinion were vital to the development of Thompson over the years that followed, under-pinning all of the agency's creative thinking.
For example it was JWT, on behalf of long-standing client Unilever, which led the campaign to persuade grocers to begin stocking household items such as laundry detergent alongside food, in response to research which demonstrated that British shoppers would be receptive to the idea of buying all their household supplies from a single store. After research demonstrated that most cheese eaten in Britain was consumed by workers for lunch, Thompson produced generic campaigns for the local dairy industry promoting cheese as "a man's meal". During the late 1950s, market research taught JWT how to revolutionise sales of the humble stock cube, by creating a series of ads featuring the OXO family, which became one of the country's longest running campaigns. The first OXO family, built around fictional housewife Katie, appeared in ads from 1958 to 1977. After a six-year gap (dubbed "the wilderness years" by JWT staff), a new OXO family was created in 1983 around actress Lynda Bellingham, and ran for a further 16 years until 1999. (The idea was briefly resurrected by new agency AMV BBDO in 2002). It was JWT also which persuaded confectionery company Rowntree to package several of its loose chocolates in a boxed selection under the name Black Magic, and conceived two of the country's best-loved advertising slogans: "Have a break, have a Kit Kat", and "Polo: the mint with the hole".
At the same time, Thompson set about making itself not just the biggest but also the most "British" agency in the country, moving to lavish new premises in Mayfair, decorated in the style of a traditional gentlemen's club and populated by well-brought-up public school types and university graduates. By 1960, under managing director Thomas Sutton, JWT was firmly established as the country's ministry of advertising, and was arguably the first company to make that previously dubious profession respectable. Towards the end of the decade, Sutton's successor, former academic John Treasure, became a prominent adviser to government (earning the nickname "Mr advertising") and JWT subsequently won the contract to promote currency decimalization to the British public. In 1972 it introduced the Andrex puppy for Kimberly-Clark. Under Treasure's successor, Jeremy Bullmore, JWT established an office in Manchester with the 1978 purchase of Yeoward Taylor & Bonner, which became J Walter Thompson Manchester.
But at the same time the industry was changing rapidly, following the emergence of more aggressive upstart agencies. In 1979 JWT was overtaken as Britain's biggest agency for the first time in 40 years, by Saatchi & Saatchi. Reluctant to sacrifice any of its own gravitas in order to reclaim its dominance, JWT set out to develop an upstart agency of its own. It acquired Euro advertising in 1980, merging it in 1982 with rival Lansdown to form Lansdown Euro (later to form the core of what is now Red Cell). The group also diversified into other areas, adding the local arm of PR giant Hill & Knowlton to its portfolio. Creative work remained strong: during this decade the agency introduced the "Beattie" ads for British Telecom, with actress Maureen Lipman. In 1987, JWT became the first large target for Martin Sorrell's fast-expanding WPP group. Almost a decade later, the media departments of JWT and Ogilvy & Mather in the UK were merged to form The Partnership, which was later to evolve into MindShare. In 2001, the purchase of Cheetham Bell greatly strengthened JWT's Manchester office.
In the early 2000s JWT London shook off its once rather stuffy reputation to earn plaudits for generally interesting (if not exceptional) creative work. A contributing factor was the appointment of CEO Simon Bolton in 2001, and a physical move out of the agency's long-held Berkeley Square HQ into funky new premises in Knightsbridge. JWT was also the main beneficiary within WPP from the dismantling of Bates Worldwide in 2003, picking up the largest chunk of former Bates business. The group's creative portfolio was also strengthened from 2001 by the merger of JWT's under-performing regional outpost in Manchester with that city's highly regarded independent Cheetham Bell. The resulting shop, Cheethambell JWT, became the country's biggest, as well as its most creative, regional agency.
Yet despite strong growth in 2003 and 2004, performance flagged dramatically in 2005. Cracks began to show when the agency lost both Samsung and Axa as a result of international consolidations of those accounts. More seriously, the group took second place in two important new business pitches for Sainsbury and British Airways, and saw further erosion of its Unilever account to BBH. At the end of the year, CEO Simon Bolton was shifted across to another WPP group company, while managing director Mark Cadman and head of planning Russ Lidstone resigned to join Euro RSCG. A new management team was appointed to repair JWT's record, headed by Alison Burns. Yet performance continued to decline during 2006, with the departure of more flagship accounts. Stability was restored by 2007. However, Alison Burns left in early 2009 to take up a new role as global client services director in New York. Guy Hayward was eventually named as her replacement, reporting to Toby Hoare, chief executive for JWT EMEA.
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