Mark Read has made his first significant appointment as WPP chief executive, promoting Mel Edwards to his previous role as global chief executive of Wunderman.
Edwards has been Wunderman's chief executive of Europe, the Middle East and Africa since 2015, when Read took over at the company. Edwards joined Wunderman as UK chief executive in 2012.
She will be in charge of 9,200 staff, looking after clients such as Shell, News Corporation and EY.
Edwards has been one of Read’s closest allies during a period when he transformed Wunderman, a traditional direct marketing agency that traces its roots back to 1958 in the US, into a digital agency that is "creatively inspired and data-driven".
She has played a leading role in making Wunderman more prominent in WPP’s offer to clients, notably when the parent company successfully defended the Shell creative account. Wunderman took the lead role instead of sister creative shop J Walter Thompson on the pitch this summer – a shift that Read highlighted to investors at WPP's recent half-year results.
Edwards has also been involved in M&A, including the internal merger of WPP agencies such as Possible and Salmon, and acquiring consultancy The Cocktail in Spain – potentially useful experience when Read is expected to merge more agencies in an attempt to simplify WPP.
She said Wunderman’s decision to expand its capabilities in areas such as commerce, consulting and customer relationship management means it is able to manage "the complete, end-to-end experience" for brands.
"What we could see clients wanting is more of a focus around the customer and that entire experience," Edwards said, looking back on how Wunderman has changed during her tenure and won clients such as BT and Samsung.
"If I look at who we were pitching against in 2012, it was more of a Proximity, a Havas, occasionally an OgilvyOne," she said, referring to other direct marketing outfits. "If I look now, it’s Sapient and consultancies like Accenture."
Edwards plans to "build on what Mark’s already achieved, which is a challenge after he’s done such a great job".
In a sign of the likely direction of travel, Wunderman bought a specialist Amazon-focused agency, 2Sales, in Luxembourg last week and is pushing its on-site agency model, Wunderman Inside, that puts staff in clients’ offices.
Read said: "Mel is an exceptional leader who demonstrated her ability to build the business by winning new clients and developing existing ones, attracting top talent and integrating technology into our offer.
"The agency has become a powerhouse in Europe and I have every confidence that it will continue its success globally with her leadership of an outstanding team around the world."
Edwards will be based in London but is expected to spend a lot of time in North America, Wunderman’s biggest market, as well as Latin America and Asia.
She began her career at charity agency Smith Bundy and creative shop GGT, before spending 12 years at M&C Saatchi’s CRM shop Lida.