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Opinion and Insight

VMLY&R: “We Roll up Our Sleeves and Prove It”

Global CCO Debbi Vandeven on the Midwestern kick powering WPP’s new super-agency

VMLY&R: “We Roll up Our Sleeves and Prove It”

The news that WPP is merging rising star VML and old stalwart Y&R might have caught a few local offices off guard, but the fact that it’s VML taking the lead won’t surprise anyone who has been following the fortunes of the Missouri-based network. 

Named Entertainment Agency of the Year two years running at Cannes, VML’s creative ambitions have been growing for some time. Originally founded as a digital agency in Kansas City back in 1992, it has evolved into a network that’s integrated both in terms of the work it produces and the way the local offices cooperate (one P&L will do that).

Until yesterday, Debbi Vandeven was VML’s global chief creative officer – now she’s taking the global CCO role for VMLY&R. According to Debbi, the agency’s Midwestern roots has allowed it to do its own thing, without feeling the need to conform to the traditions and processes that a New York or London headquartered shop might need to.

“With our Midwestern roots, we don’t limit ourselves to living up to a certain traditional mindset or expectation of an agency. Instead, we blaze our own path by approaching work for clients in the best way possible,” she says. “Missouri is the 'Show-Me' State, which means we don’t take anything at face value. We know we’re more than capable, so we roll up our sleeves and prove it.”

And that mentality of not being bound by expectations seeps into the creative approach too. “We try to make work culturally relevant. It’s about an idea, not about the channel. Advertising might be part of the experience, but not the whole experience. As was the case with Tennessee Tourism, where instead of just doing TV commercials, we created a viewer that gave colour-blind people the ability to see Tennessee’s spectacular fall foliage in living colour. Another example is a campaign for Absolut in South Africa, which sparked a creative cultural revolution. Our work for Wendy’s, in many cases, became part of a cultural conversation.”

But while the VML brand and leadership might be up front in the new VMLY&R agency, the team say that they will be drawing from the deep foundations of Y&R, whose history dates back to 1923.

“Y&R has a legacy of historic advertising firsts and we hope to continue that tradition. For example, they created the first colour television commercial and the first research department with George Gallup. They also bring a strong tradition of research and strategy. We’re eager to bring our creative energy together and be an even more powerful force,” says Debbi.

“Two remarkable agencies. One pivotal moment. It’s our time to make history together. It’s our chance to reimagine the future. We will find new ways to create connected brands, drive value for our client partners and show the world what we can be.”

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