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In 2006, WPP, the world’s largest advertising holding company, took the unusual step of merging personnel from five of its agencies to create a single entity to serve its largest client, Ford.

"Team Detroit," as this new entity was called, represented a sharp departure from the way that WPP and the other large advertising holding companies worked with clients. The holding companies generally allowed their agencies to battle for accounts and manage their own relationships with clients. Often, agencies from the same holding company would compete for the same business. "Hiving off" personnel from existing agencies to create a bespoke entity had rarely been tried before.

Pulling together Team Detroit proved to be quite challenging. WPP housed the personnel from the agencies working on the Ford business in a single building across the street from Ford world headquarters in Dearborn, Michigan. However, each of the agencies had its own practices, culture, and identity. Integration required a great deal of time and effort as the separate entities had to learn to work together. 

WPP executives acknowledged that without Ford’s insistence the new venture might not have survived. But Ford was experimenting with a number of new ways of doing business. With the company’s back to the wall, newly installed CEO Alan Mulally and Chairman Bill Ford had begun a relentless drive to rationalize and globalize Ford’s operations. Ford shed its ownership interests in other automobile manufacturers such as Jaguar and Land Rover, reduced the number of models it produced, standardized manufacturing procedures, and increased communication between functional and geographic segments. Finally, the company turned to streamlining and improving its marketing function as well.

Team Detroit and Ford’s marketing team faced a considerable uphill battle rebuilding Ford’s brand image. The carmaker was well known, but not well respected. Ford products were seen as blue-collar and common. The company was known for its trucks and SUVs, but not for its cars.

To get customers to consider Ford’s new models, Team Detroit and Ford initiated daring campaigns that sought to engage younger customers through the internet and social media. Ford's marketing shift to incorporate a variety of distribution channels (especially digital media) may have been helped by the fact that as a single entity, Team Detroit was nimble and able to allocate resources to whatever forms of communication were getting the greatest response. To insure that Ford was getting the best talent, Team Detroit also hired outside personnel and agencies to work with its people on campaigns. The result was award-winning communications that served to introduce Ford to new customer groups.

Team Detroit initially handled only Ford’s North American business. But with the success of the WPP collaboration and Ford's desire to globalize, Ford asked Team Detroit to co-ordinate all global marketing. Ford’s marketing had been handled by different agencies and marketing teams in every country. The new effort sought to create a consistent brand globally and deliver efficiencies by sharing marketing assets. To do this, WPP looked to create new regional agencies called "Blue Hives" with structures similar to Team Detroit, to promote Ford products in different regions around the world. Also, to create ideation that captured the widest range of creativity, Team Detroit instituted global “hothouses” that brought together global advertising agency employees, particularly creatives, and others to hammer out approaches to marketing Ford vehicles.

By 2012, the efforts of Ford and Team Detroit appeared to be bearing fruit. Ford sales were up and Ford cars were being sourced and sold globally. The success of Ford’s efforts, however, raised new questions for Ford, WPP, and Team Detroit.



This case study has been made possible by the generous support of the
Brad Huang '90 Fund for Innovation in Case Studies.

Web site editor

Jean RosenthalProject Editor, Case Study Research and Development, Yale School of Management

Case Supervision

Arun SinhaSenior Faculty Fellow, Yale School of Management
Ravi DharGeorge Rogers Clark Professor of Management and Marketing & Director of the Center for Customer Insights, Yale School of Management
Jaan EliasDirector of Case Research, Yale School of Management

video production and editing

Michelle MorganTipsy Pix
Gregory MacDonaldMultimedia Producer, Case Study Research & Development, Yale School of Management

videography, New York, NY

Tim Newman
Richard Buonagurio

videography, dearborn, MI

Jeffrey TillSVP, Managing Director, Team Detroit's Broadcast Studio
Jeff WoodSr. Producer, Team Detroit's Broadcast Studio
Andy MillerVideographer, Team Detroit
Brad RichterVideographer
Jamin TownsleyVideographer
Amanda LeClaireContent Producer, Team Detroit
Nicholas LahayAssistant Account Executive, Team Detroit

Video interviews, Ford Motor Company. fall 2012, summer 2013

Jim FarleyExecutive Vice President, Global Marketing, Sales and Service and Lincoln, Ford Motor Company
Elena FordDirector, Global Marketing, Sales and Service Operations, Ford Motor Company

Video interviews, Team Detroit, fall 2012, summer 2013

Toby BarlowEVP, Chief Creative Officer, Global Team Ford
Mike Bentley EVP, Co-Managing Director
Satish KordePresident and CEO
Betsy LazarEVP, Chief Media Officer
Linda TaylorEVP, Chief Talent Officer
Paul VennEVP, Co-Managing Director
Sharon WackeEVP, Managing Partner

Video interviews, WPP, fall 2012, summer 2013

Richard BrookSVP, Global Client Operations
George RogersGlobal Business Development Director

Special thanks to WPP, Team Detroit, and Ford Motor Company for sharing their time and resources to provide the case study with interviews, data, videos, images, and other assistance.

Thanks to all Individuals Interviewed, as listed above, plus particularly
Sharon Wacker EVP, Managing Partner
Laura HaddockAccount Supervisor