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Agency Profile: JWT New York

Posted on June 19, 2006 and read 3,892 times

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ignaciocreditpic 150x150 Agency Profile: JWT New YorkIgnacio Oreamuno

Fast Company, which featured JWT as its main story this month wrote the following, “J. Walter Thompson’s flagship New York office was “slowly dying.” It hadn’t won a single new account in two years. Then Rosemarie Ryan and Ty Montague arrived to set the joint afire”.

What’s the story behind the JWT transformation?

I visited JWT in the midst of its metamorphosis and was very shocked at the difference between the old and new JWT. It’s all based around the idea that a monster WPP agency like JWT can act and think like a ‘billion-dollar-startup’. To do this, JWT made a big contract. Big, not in terms of words, but in size. It’s over 2 meters tall and states the new direction for the company, which amongst many points makes everyone in the agency, from creatives to account people, accountable for the product. It also forces the agency to do regular health checks into its own creative product by using a creative standards guide it created (ranking creative product from 1-10, ‘damaging’ to ‘world beating’). All the big cheeses from JWT signed this agreement and all employees have to abide by it.

The first major change before this ever took place had to do with the creative leadership of JWT NY. Ty Montague used to head Wieden + Kennedy NY and is famous for not just having a great Head & Shoulders mane of hair, but amongst many achievements, heading the Beta-7 campaign which won the Grand Clio in 2005. He was recently appointed Chief Creative Officer of JWT NY. He wasn’t just brought in to fix the kerning and commas in the ads though, he was also made Co-President so he could have a say in where the agency is going, and more specifically how it will get there.

The biggest change Ty has brought to the agency is changing the way it hired talent. JWT was an old wooden ship and let’s just say it wasn’t honey to the top creative bees. Since Ty stepped in, creative has been hand-picked and more “hot shop” talented people have been brought in. In other words, don’t be surprised if a creative dude in a mohawk comes in to present the concepts.

Other cool facts about the JWT work culture:

JWT Cares Day: Once a year, the entire JWT agency closes its doors and everyone in the office spends an entire day helping a variety of good causes around the city. The day might involve doing arts and crafts with poor kids or organizing a Christmas party at a home for the elderly. It all wraps up with a big party and the entire day is shot and edited into a memorable video.

Town Hall Meeting: Keeping everyone informed of everything that is happening in an agency as big as JWT isn’t easy. Forget email. At JWT things are done à la wild west. Big meetings are held in a nice big space that has tv screens and is fitted with a pop corn machine no less.

Health Freaks: Most agencies allow their teams free access to all the possible caffeine and energy inducing chocolates and sodas to keep ‘em running during those all-too-frequent all nighters. At JWT, CEO and Chairman Bob Jeffrey (who apparently is a health nut), made it a point to do just the opposite and established several programs to help agency folk lead a more balanced diet and work life. A balanced program was established that includes nutrition seminars and access to healthy foods. In addition, a daily ‘green-tea’ cart goes around the agency with several types of teas and granola like products. By the time the dreaded middle of the week stump goes around, you’ll be in bliss receiving a massage to help you get through the rest of the dreaded week. And when manic Friday comes, you’ll be invited to a yoga session in the meditation room. This of course, doesn’t mean that JWT is a big commune full of levitating hippies. If your spiritual side is closer to beer and chips then the Friday bar at JWT will help you blow of steam and get ready for the weekend.

All in all, it’s clear that JWT is working hard to change its culture. Is it working? Well, it’s too early to tell and changing such a big place is not easy after so many years of stagnation. However, nothing says change, more than physically changing the physical look of the agency, which JWT has done as well.

I was lucky to visit the agency in the middle of the transformation, which allowed me to see the before and after.

The “before” JWT looked like an insurance company from the 1920’s. It makes O&M NY look like a rave party. Every office is closed and every corner is ugly. I had a hard time taking photos because there wasn’t anything that said “ad agency.”

The “after” JWT looks like a spaceship that’s about to take off. Lime green, white and purple are the colors de facto. Whilst very trendy, a lot of people admitted they were having a hard time leaving their private offices for the cool open spaces.

Whilst JWT has received some criticism for painting the walls on a very old house and calling it a new house, you need to give kudos to them for taking a very big step in the direction of positive change.




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