Longtime Ford ad agency WPP plans major office move to downtown Detroit

Marketing

DETROIT — The world’s largest holding company of advertising agencies, which has done business with Ford Motor Co. for more than 75 years, plans to move several units to downtown Detroit in a move that could bring more than 1,000 jobs to the city.

London-based WPP plc — which includes GTB, VMLY&R, Burrows, Hudson Rouge, Iconmobile, Xaxis and Zubi — said Tuesday it plans to move into the vacant Marquette Building at 243 W. Congress St. The building is across the street from the site of the Detroit auto show — the TCF Center, formerly known as Cobo Center.

GTB, or Global Team Blue, works heavily with Ford, which is renovating the Michigan Central Station in Corktown as an anchor to its $740 million autonomous and electric vehicle campus in the neighborhood west of downtown.

The new WPP space is expected to be open by the end of next year, the company said in a news release. It said it will also maintain a presence in nearby Dearborn, where the agency currently has about 850 employees.

The Michigan Strategic Fund board on Tuesday approved a $1.65 million Michigan Business Development Program grant for the move.

GTB CEO Robert Guay said in an interview that discussions over the move were well under way when he joined the company in July. 

“As someone who has worked in a creative environment in the city of Detroit, I am thrilled with the opportunity to identify and recruit emerging tech and creative talent,” he said.

An MSF board briefing memo says the move is a $19.24 million investment and that in addition to the 850 Dearborn employees, another 182 jobs are anticipated. The new building would house client engagement, finance, human resources, design, analytics and other company functions, the memo says.

The memo also says the city of Detroit has offered a personal property tax abatement up to 10 years with an estimated value of $993,000. The grant would not be disbursed until certain performance milestones are met, according to the memo.

The news comes a year after Ford replaced WPP as its longtime lead creative ad agency with BBDO of New York City. It switched shops following five months of review.

‘Parallel paths’

“Ford and GTB were on parallel paths looking for the same thing: Proximity to the city center and access to tech resources and talent,” Guay said. “I can’t say that we necessarily looked at the space solely because of Ford building in Corktown, but it certainly was an assuring thing.”

The Marquette Building is owned by Detroit-based Sterling Group.

Auto seating supplier Adient plc, the spinoff of Milwaukee-based Johnson Controls Inc., paid $36.13 million to acquire and improve the property over the course of a year between November 2016 and November 2017, according to city property records. Then the company took a roughly $11 million haircut on it in a $25 million sale of the building, a 400-space parking deck and a surface parking lot a year ago.

A source familiar with the matter said WPP will lease most of the Detroit building and have its employees park in the parking deck and surface lot. Guay declined to comment on parking.

Adient was planning to turn the Marquette Building into its new $100 million headquarters, but that plan was scrapped in June 2018. Adient is remaining in its Plymouth Township headquarters.

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