After news of a private internal inquiry was leaked to the Wall Street Journal on Sunday, Ford Motor Company promptly overturned the instruction given by its president/chief operating officer Sir Nick Scheele that all the automaker’s advertising and marketing activity be channelled through WPP Group [WAMN: 11-Mar-03].

Insiders say the sudden reversal marks a victory for Ford’s global purchasing department, headed by David Thursfield, chief executive of Ford Europe and Scheele’s long-time rival. The former is believed to have protested to the Ford board that Scheele had authorized the sole source deal with WPP without following the company’s competitive bidding and price comparison procedures.

WPP currently handles some 80% of all Ford marketing and advertising business worldwide - all of which is now subject to scrutiny by Ford purchasing, finance and marketing executives. During the inquiry no additional business will be handed to the London-headquartered agency holding company – the world’s largest based on revenues – although insiders believe it unlikely that WPP’s half-nelson on the Ford business will be endangered by the review.

Ford’s options are in any event limited should it decide to look elsewhere. The only other global contenders for its business are already in bed with one or another of its rivals. A more likely casualty is the relationship between the two knights, Sir Nick and WPP’s Sir Martin Sorrell, whose hitherto close friendship will of necessity be elongated to arms-length.

As an example of the knightly accord, The Times of London cites the ‘fellowship’ conferred by WPP on James Scheele, Sir Nick’s younger son, which resulted in his gaining one of a handful of coveted graduate trainee positions at the New York office of WPP unit Young & Rubicam.

Data sourced from: The Wall Street Journal Online and The Times (UK); additional content by WARC staff