Interviews

Tamara Ingram, Chairman, Wunderman Thompson

Merging the world’s oldest ad agency with digital network Wunderman is no simple challenge. Yet as clients increasingly demand a seamless integration between data and creativity Tamara Ingram, Chairman at Wunderman Thompson lifts the lid on the challenges ahead.

Izzy Ashton

Assistant Editor, BITE

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“Creativity is without a doubt our differentiator and our driving force. It is at the forefront of our culture,” explains Tamara Ingram, Chairman of Wunderman Thompson. This creativity, she says, comes from the harmonious blend of technology and creativity that was such a prevalent topic of conversation at Cannes this year.

Wunderman Thompson remains in the early stages of global integration and like any merger, it has proved not to be an entirely painless process. Criticism that Wunderman has taken the upper hand within the new structure have dominated press coverage despite the fact that Ingram was previously the worldwide CEO of JWT.

Yet there are clear signs that Wunderman Thompson are serious about doing things differently; the focus on culture is more than just lip-service. The press shot of Mel Edwards, Global CEO at Wunderman and Ingram released last November when the merger was announced is a world away from the scowling on staircase shots traditionally accompanying such appointments.

Ingram is speaking in Cannes, where the WPP network is out in force, underlining the fact that it is not just the world’s biggest tech brands which need to sell their positioning to brands and potential employees at the festival. For Wunderman Thompson, which remains in the early stages of integration, the festival has also provided an important face to face touchpoint for the global teams. 

Creativity is without a doubt our differentiator and our driving force. It is at the forefront of our culture.

Tamara Ingram

Blending creativity and data

Data-driven insight has long been at the heart of Wunderman’s offering, yet all too often the industry discussion surrounding ‘big data’ implies that the balance between creativity and data is binary. Ingram is quick to point out that what you need is a careful balance of the two: “We’re creating a new company, a company where creativity is at the core and data and technology enables it. Because as we know, data is the water and the life blood of all clients. [Data is] not a nice to have, it’s a must have.” 

For Ingram, and Wunderman Thompson in turn, it’s about delivering more than communication, something many agencies are beginning to recognise as well. And it’s creativity that will allow that to come about, whether it happens through products, services, experiences, design or in the communications itself.

To allow for these different offerings to run seamlessly alongside one another, Ingram is building a new global creative leadership structure across the business. This is not about having one creative figurehead or relying on the somewhat outdated myth of the individual ‘creative Rockstar’, but more about having a collective collaboration. “All of this demands an orbit if you like, an ecosystem of creatives...and we do it all across the world,” she explains.

We’re creating a new company, a company where creativity is at the core and data and technology enables it.

Tamara Ingram

Building a new ecosystem of creativity

This ecosystem aligns with another of Ingram’s beliefs which is that, ultimately, creativity is “a team sport.” What’s needed in the new agency/client way of working is a degree of flexibility and of different people, different teams creating together. As Ingram acknowledges, “I don’t think about creativity belonging to one department; I think about it as a driving force in a new company.”

As creativity drives the business, so too does the data from which insights are gleaned. Data in itself is nothing new, but the sheer volume brands and agencies have access to today has shifted the way creativity can both operate and perform. Ingram explains the relationship between the two: “We’ve had data since we’ve had human beings...the capacity of human beings to have insights and fact differentiates us from animals, as does our ability to tell stories.”

According to Ingram what has changed is the access to that data at scale. “We can now deliver things much more efficiently at scale. It’s always been the quality of the storytelling and the imagination that allows you to stand out uniquely in an ever more crowded world,” she adds.

I would say in the new world, a marketeer has to model the brand and the company they want to be. We have to model the behaviours we want to see in everyone else.

Tamara Ingram

The art of creative storytelling

This focus on data does not detract from the fact that the work remains the heartbeat of Wunderman Thompson. Ingram points to her pride at the agency’s recent work for Tommy Adaptive, an innovative clothing line from Tommy Hilfiger for people with disabilities. The range is for both children and adults and the brand held an event in Cannes to highlight the importance of both inclusivity and accessibility. “There is a company [working] with us looking at an extraordinary innovation that enables people...to dress themselves and do it in a way that gives confidence and joy but also, to be liberated to do it,” she added.

Stories such as this come from moments of surprise, as Ingram puts it, which you just can’t get from data in isolation. She explains, “All of that [storytelling] has to come from a deep human truth that has a surprise in it. So, just reading data and repeating what you read does not give us a surprise.”

Wunderman Thompson could well be taking inspiration from Picasso, who once noted “Computers are useless. They can only give you the answer.” In any merger it is challenging to find just one single answer to the structural and commercial pressures facing global agency structures across the globe.

All of that [storytelling] has to come from a deep human truth that has a surprise in it. So, just reading data and repeating what you read does not give us a surprise.

Tamara Ingram

The drive towards diversity

For a business whose greatest asset is the creative and strategic skills of its people Ingram is acutely aware of the importance of both hiring but then also retaining the best talent. She believes that the company has an attractive, “unassailable offer in the marketplace” as a new business. Yet the challenge lies not just in attracting the best new talent, but in ensuring its existing talent feels motivated. She explains, “Our task therefore is to capture their hearts and minds and get the best out of them.”

Hiring the best talent also relies on the company having and maintaining a strong internal belief system, led from the top. This can be challenging in a global company, as Ingram accepts. But, she recognises that it is those in leadership who must embody and reflect the culture and values they want to have within the business: “I would say in the new world, a marketeer has to model the brand and the company they want to be. We have to model the behaviours we want to see in everyone else.” There is no option for a distinction between internal and external behaviour anymore: “The iceberg theory has never ever been more true.”

To new talent starting out, Ingram appears to be optimistic about what their future holds. But, as she cautions, “never ever, ever settle.” There is no room for those who rest on their laurels. As the industry shifts and changes faster than many agencies and brands can keep up, it’s essential that the next generation of creative marketers are ready for it. Ingram’s advice? “Total, endless curiosity.”

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