In 2006, WPP, the world’s largest advertising holding company, took the unusual step of merging personnel from five of its agencies to create a single entity to serve its largest client, Ford.
"Team Detroit," as this new entity was called, represented a sharp departure from the way that WPP and the other large advertising holding companies worked with clients. The holding companies generally allowed their agencies to battle for accounts and manage their own relationships with clients. Often, agencies from the same holding company would compete for the same business. On the client side, calling in agencies to compete every few years was standard operating procedure. General Motors, Ford’s chief U.S. rival, was well known for changing agencies frequently.
Pulling together Team Detroit proved to be quite challenging. WPP housed the personnel from the agencies working on the Ford business in a single building across the street from Ford world headquarters in Dearborn, Michigan. However, each of the agencies had its own practices, culture, and identity. Integration required a great deal of time and effort as the separate entities had to learn to work together.
WPP executives acknowledged that without Ford’s insistence the venture might not have survived. But Ford was experimenting with a number of new ways of doing business. With the company’s back to the wall, newly installed CEO Alan Mulally and Chairman Bill Ford had begun a relentless drive to rationalize and globalize Ford’s operations. Ford shed its ownership interests in other automobile manufacturers such as Jaguar and Land Rover, reduced the number of models it produced, standardized manufacturing procedures, and increased communication between functional and geographic segments. Finally, the company turned to streamlining and improving its marketing function as well.
Team Detroit and Ford’s marketing team faced a considerable uphill battle rebuilding Ford’s brand image. The carmaker was well-known, but not well-respected. Ford products were seen as blue-collar and common. The company was known for its trucks and SUVs, but not for its cars.
To get customers to consider Ford’s new models, Team Detroit and Ford initiated daring campaigns that sought to engage younger customers through the internet and social media. Ford's marketing shift to incorporate a variety of distribution channels (especially digital media) may have been helped by the fact that as a single entity, Team Detroit was nimble and able to allocate resources to whatever forms of communication were getting the greatest response. To insure that Ford was getting the best talent, Team Detroit also hired outside personnel and agencies to work with its people on campaigns. The result was award-winning communications that served to introduce Ford to new customer groups.
Team Detroit initially handled only Ford’s North American business. But with Team Detroit’s success, Ford asked Team Detroit to co-ordinate all global marketing. Ford’s marketing had been handled by different agencies and marketing teams in every country. The new effort sought to create a consistent brand globally and deliver efficiencies by sharing marketing assets. To do this, WPP looked to create new regional agencies called "Blue Hives" with structures similar to Team Detroit, to promote Ford products in different regions around the world. Also to encourage creativity, Team Detroit instituted global “hothouses” that brought together global advertising agency employees, particularly creatives, and others to hammer out approaches to marketing Ford vehicles.
By 2012, the efforts of Ford and Team Detroit appeared to be bearing fruit. Ford sales were up and Ford cars were being sourced and sold globally. The success of Ford’s efforts, however, raised new questions for Ford, WPP, and Team Detroit.
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Jean Rosenthal, Arun Sinha, Ravi Dhar, Jaan Elias, “Team Detroit,” Yale SOM Case 104-13, March 1, 2014.
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The Yale School of Management’s work on this Global Network case study has been made possible by the generous support of The Brad Huang ’90 Fund for Innovation in Case Studies.