Dell's Enfatico Is a Rare Misstep for WPP's Sorrell

Last Updated Nov 12, 2008 2:08 PM EST

6a00d8341bfa1853ef01053598cba4970c-800wi.jpgCasey Jones has lost his job as vp marketing at Dell, and with it goes his role as "creator" of the Dell-only ad agency he demanded be formed to work solely on his account, Enfatico. The move proves two things that WPP chief Martin Sorrell knew going into this deal a year ago, but that he nonetheless ignored in order to win the Dell prize:
  • That it is incredibly inefficient to build an international agency from scratch.
  • That having the de facto boss of the agency -- Jones -- as the agency's sole client puts Jones in the kind of conflict of interest that at best would lower the quality of the work and at worst ruin Dell's marketing altogether.
The seeds of this much-mocked disaster were there from the start. Rather than hiring a perfectly good international agency or holding company, Jones instead wanted a brand new, 1,000-person shop created to serve Dell's $4.5 billion account globally and replace the 800 agencies currently serving the account.

Even if it were successful, how nimble could such a new-born behemoth be? Not very, is the answer. Enfatico's Austin, Texas office was the local Starbucks (!) for a period during 2008, and even by late October the actual office was only "almost done," according to the Austin Business Journal.

The creation of the shop required the removal of Digitas Boston president Torrence Boone and Y&R chief marketing officer Mitch Caplan to service the biz. (Not everyone Sorrell asked to join Enfatico depleted another agency. Grey's former vice chairman, Bob Berenson, who left on the heels of the Color Wheel scandal, was dragged out of his Sedona/Manhattan retirement to get the thing going.)

There's a reason giant holding companies exist: Over the years they have learned to grow efficiently, like mold, either through acquisition (which doesn't require new-agency building) or through organic wins (which are easier to service than new-agency building). For some reason this truism was lost on Dell. From the start, the instinct of the rank and file in the business was that this was going nowhere.

Dell could have proven everyone wrong by producing kick-ass creative. Did it? No. Enfatico's work has been decidedly ordinary to date, unless you think that cute customers and product-shots are a groundbreaking idea (that needed a year of corporate upheaval to deliver). That image of blank pages at the top of this item? At the time of writing, that's the agency's entire portfolio, as advertised on its own site!

Historically, Sorrell has been a master of corporate strategy. WPP, after all, was originally a company that made shopping carts (it stands for Wire and Plastic Products). Now it bestrides the earth like a colossus. So it's a mystery why he agreed to create Enfatico for Dell. Maybe it was something to do with the $150 million in annual revenue that the fiasco is allegedly worth ...