the showcase 2023

VMLY&R's Resilience Amid Leadership Shifts and Merger

The stage is set for a dynamic future for the 'new' VML. We showcase the agency's highlights as VMLY&R in 2023

By creative salon

As VMLY&R prepares for a merger with Wunderman Thompson to become VML on 1 January in 2024, we take a look at its success stories this year in the evolving landscape. From the Boots Christmas campaign to Coca Cola Christmas to People's Postcode Lottery - the agency continued to produce some noteworthy work for its clients this year.

The start of the year will see Justin Pahl, co-chief executive of VMLY&R London, step into the new role of global client lead at WPP. Michelle Whelan, co-chief executive of VMLY&R London and chief executive of VMLY&R Commerce, will become UK chief client officer. The co-chiefs have both been responsible for driving the integration of commerce into customer experience and brand experience at the London agency.

Creative Salon on VMLY&R's 2023

VMLY&R is walking into a transformative end of the year following the announcement of a merger with Wunderman Thompson. The new agency - VML - will see Pip Hulbert, CEO of Wunderman Thompson UK, as UK chief executive.

An agency with a strong foundation, steered by Pahl and Whelan, it has continued to create some solid work for some of its major clients such including Coca Cola, Colgate, Diageo and Walgreens Boots Alliance.

Meanwhile, the agency CCO Laurent Simon, has departed the WPP shop - a decision he made before the VMLY&R and Wunderman Thompson merger announcement. Nick Rowland, executive creative director, and Marco Bezerra, ECD for VMLY&R Commerce, will lead the creative departments in the interim. They will be supported by Simon Lloyd, deputy CCO for VMLY&R EMEA, and Mark Roalfe, creative chairman.

Amid these seismic shifts, VMLY&R strategically restructured its leadership. Tom Moore ascended to head of commerce UK, and Marie Conley, former head of planning at TBWA, joined as a strategy partner within The Pharm, focusing on Boots UK and No7 Beauty Company. The agency also bought in Kate Nettleton, the group strategy director at VCCP to assume the new role of UK head of planning reporting to CSO Anna Vogt. Vogt has been instrumental, alongside Pahl and Whelan, in shaping the agency's connected-brands proposition. A shout-out also to Debbie Ellison, the global chief digital officer at the agency who was integral in the launch of the Inclusion Experience (IX), a consultancy practice that helps brands develop more inclusive communications and the architect of The Home of Connected Brands - a fully immersive physical manifestation of the agency's belief that connected brands are more powerful brands.

VMLY&R, meanwhile, continued to deliver some solid work for its clients. For this year's Christmas campaign for Coca Cola, the agency created 'The Santa Stories' short film anthology in collaboration with WPP Open X. Each film is a reminder of the Santa Claus in all of us and reimagines the representation of Santa in a different way.

The agency delved into the realm of true crime-style storytelling with "Burger Files," a podcast revealing real-life fast-food horror stories. The innovative campaign turned real stories found and submitted on social media into a seven-episode true crime-style podcast, each focusing on poor fast-food experiences - from being served soggy buns and barely melted cheese to frozen beef.

More noteworthy campaigns followed. Baileys' "Delicious Descriptions" social campaign focused on inclusivity for blind and partially sighted individuals on social media. "People’s Postcode Lottery" shifted its narrative, moving away from doorstep cheque reveals to appeal to a broader audience while Stamma's "Don't Be A Knob" campaign encouraged understanding for individuals with stammers.

Boots' Christmas campaign is centred around a festive film that reminds viewers that there is a present for everyone at the retailer. It was ranked as one of the early Christmas ad winners by System1 using what it calls a Spike Rating (stars) predicting short term sales impact.

Beyond campaigns, VMLY&R celebrated the fifth anniversary of its Incubator program, offering work experience to under-represented 16–18-year-olds in the creative industry. Industry accolades were not far behind, with the agency securing IPA Platinum recognition for two consecutive years for continuous professional development, underscoring its commitment to learning and well-being.

Creative Salon Says: VMLY&R demonstrated a year of strategic adaptability and creative resilience, navigating through a transformative change. 2024 will bring in a new era as VML. The leadership restructuring and strategic appointments reflect a deliberate effort to position the agency for success for the year ahead and beyond, with the indomitable Pip Hulbert at the helm of VML UK. Hulbert has a big big job on her hands as the holding company embarks on its biggest internal restructuring to date. For those in the know, she already has a masterplan on how to take the current stars at VMLY&R with her and hire some heavyweights to make this major market for the Kansas City based VML live up to the expectations of the holding company, its shareholders and its clients.


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