Da Vinci premieres a new full service

WPP's new project is unprecedented in that all marketing communications are being rolled into one global agency, with a digital emphasis. Media Week examines whether it can be successful.

Inside Dell's headquarters
Inside Dell's headquarters

What has 1,000 staff, offices from New York to London and Beijing, proposes to do the job of 800 firms and is (currently) named after one of Italy's most famous sons?

Welcome to Project Da Vinci, WPP's monumental new agency, set up with the sole purpose of servicing all marketing, media and communications for Fortune 500 computer giant, Dell.

Seeking a mix of art and science from its media and marketing mix, Dell's vice-president of global marketing, Casey Jones, commissioned the project in December.

"Instead of dating 800 agencies, we are creating a partnership with one firm," Casey said on launch. "We want our partner to spend 100% of its time thinking about our customers, rather than how it will get the next assignment."

WPP's project of setting up an agency or network for a single client has precedents. Interpublic's now defunct US agency General Motors Mediaworks, which employed 200 staff, and the Turin-based Fiat Media Centre, part-owned by WPP, are examples.

But, whereas these were just media shops, what is unprecedented about Da Vinci is that all marketing communications, including creative and media, are being rolled into one global agency.

Sole responsibility
Matt Rayner, global chief media officer of Project Da Vinci, is the man in charge of Dell's media planning and buying around the world. He has help from his former employer GroupM, but ultimately the performance of Dell's $4.5bn (£2.3bn) agency billings over the next three years is down to him.

"Da Vinci is a result of the need for Dell to get to grips with the internet marketing paradigm," says Rayner. "Previously, it had a lot of agencies doing a lot of things, but it wasn't integrated.
"For WPP, the digital market is still evolving and Project Da Vinci is part of our willingness to adapt to client needs.

"The media will be powered by GroupM, who will handle everything when it comes to trading and media partners. The question is integrating that with what Da Vinci does - the comms planning and strategy."

Project Da Vinci's launch in the UK is imminent, according to Rayner. Currently, MediaCom is handling the entire Dell UK account, previously handled by Carat across Europe, but this is likely to be transferred to Project Da Vinci's UK office within weeks.

Similarly, an announcement on the established name for Da Vinci is expected any day now. But the name is not a priority for Rayner, who has other things on his mind.

Referring to previous efforts by networks to set up agencies to service one client, Rayner says: "Every client is different. The failure or success of that agency depends a little bit on the client and a lot on the people you hire - that's the most important thing."

In order to succeed, Project Da Vinci will put a huge emphasis on online marketing. "Dell's engine is Dell.com, so the agency has to have an expertise in digital - it has to be central to what we do," adds Rayner.

Incoming Da Vinci chief executive Torrence Boone has a heritage in digital. Boone will take up his post mid-June, having spent the past seven years at Publicis Groupe's global digital network Digitas as president of Digitas Boston, and previously general manager for digital agency Avenue A.

Digital age
Chris Clarke, president and executive creative director of Digitas London, said it's not a surprise someone from the digital sector, and more specifically an ex- colleague, has been charged with such a big job.

"We've had the mass communications age with superstars and top 10 hits and now we're in the digital age, which is about niches and exploiting communities," says Clarke. "Dell has long been big on digital advertising and is very much in the direct response space, which is about hard numbers and crunching data."

A concern for Clarke is that working on only one client can stifle creativity. "It can be a challenge creatively and become formulaic, but operationally it makes sense. I'm sure WPP are smart people and will keep the pool of talent fresh and imaginative, otherwise it won't work," he says.

One agency chief has a sterner warning. "In potentially gaining efficiencies by one agency handling everything, Dell needs to accept that there are going to be some average services too. Every single time this has happened, the client always reverts to appointing specialists.

"They'll find that the agency is underperforming at media in Russia or digital in Finland and gradually it will crumble."

Should Dell start to reappoint specialists before the initial three- year deal expires, expect Project Da Vinci to gradually dilute over time. But there's nothing surer than WPP doing everything to prevent that happening.

DA VINCI: THE LOWDOWN

? WPP landed a three-year deal to handle all of Dell's media and marketing requirements, beating Interpublic, Publicis Groupe and Havas to the prized account
? Previously, 800 agencies across all marketing communications disciplines handled Dell's account across the globe
? $4.5bn in agency billings for Dell are earmarked for next three years
? 600 staff recruited so far, with a target of 1,000
? Currently operational in 13 cities, more to follow
? Senior executive team in place: Torrence Boone hired as chief executive

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