FIVE MINUTES WITH NATHALIE HAXBY
Wavemaker, the recently launched global media, tech and content agency, was formed out of the merger of WPP agencies MEC and Maxus. Global chief marketing officer Nathalie Haxby, who was an instrumental part of the merger team, talks about internal and external communications throughout the process.
Why did the merger occur?
Originally it was all about simplifying our organisations. MEC and Maxus had complimentary cultures, similar values and also we were very strong locally, so we were two very entrepreneurial businesses and it made sense to bring those two together and then decide the overall structure. The merger was the smart way to combine the strength and talent of MEC and Maxus.
With 8,500 staff worldwide, stakeholders, clients, media and partners, what was your approach to internal and external communications?
What we did from an internal point of view, is that we understood we had to have one voice when we were talking to the employees before we actually merged in market. The recently appointed CEO of MEC, Tim Castree, become the CEO of Wavemaker and it made sense for him to be the voice behind both internal and external communications. It was an opportunity to firmly establish him as the leader of the business through this major transformation, build relationships and clearly outline his values and vision for the business as it become Wavemaker. Internally and externally, we designed a very detailed plan for what, when and why the merger was going to be made. We had a series of key messages that were communicated across all of the market and then we had daily communication, which later became weekly, so everyone could see what was happening across the network. In regards to the clients, we brought them into the plan very early on and we explained to them what the merger would mean for their business, how we would approach the transitioning and what the timing would be in each particular market. We really made an effort to ensure that they were comfortable with the change overall.
How do you balance global messaging and management with local empowerment? What is the relationship between the two?
From the beginning it was a lot to absorb. There was a lot of transition and change. It was not just about changing the brand name or even the logo, it was about what would happen to people and their jobs. So, we created some very essential messaging that people could just pick up and use. People had other things to worry about, they didn’t need the extra stress of communication and what they needed to say, so we prepared a lot of that in advance. As markets were preparing to launch, we would work individually with the countries to prepare their specific messaging.
How did you define a new culture and values that are both unique but still reflective of both businesses?
What we realised quickly in the transition team merger was that there were the real similarities between our culture, our values and even our behaviours. However, we knew we had to create something different and unique to form a brand new company. Maxus had values that were known as ‘P.A.C.E’, which translated to passionate, agile, collaborative and entrepreneurial, while MEC culture was built on the idea of ‘thrive’ and how one can thrive in their job as well as in their personal life. The companies therefore had complimentary cultures based on people’s passion and the idea of teamwork and collaboration. Working with the global leadership team, we merged these to create the Wavemaker values and standards and added diversity and inclusion, which have been wholly embraced from both companies.
What was the biggest challenge of the merger? What did you learn from it?
The first challenge was that we didn’t have a name for the company immediately. Although we picked Wavemaker as the name quite early on, there’s a lot of bureaucracy between registering and ensuring you have the paperwork for the name. When you don’t have a company name, it’s really hard to get people to believe in you. The next challenge was that we created a new leadership team that reminded us that there has been so few corporate changes in our industry throughout the years. A lot of our managers didn’t have the experience of handling a merger, so the transition team had to set up guide lines and consistent templates on how to merge companies. Creating a new brand is an effort that is not to be underestimate as well. You are creating a whole new brand, you are creating a whole new story and you’ve got to engage and get people on board in a very short period of time.
What are you most proud of since becoming global chief marketing officer?
My marketing team is what I’m most proud of. We are seven people in London and New York and we had to manage our existing MEC and Maxus brand for six months as we were at the same time going live with Wavemaker. I think for such a group of people to manage such a huge task successfully is impressive. What we all learned from this experience is that in this kind of transition and transformation one can never communicate enough.
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