New Willott figures confirm WPP as the biggest – but Omnicom still makes more money

Bob Willott’s Marketing Services Financial Intelligence has confirmed what we already knew, viz that WPP has overtaken Omnicom as the world’s biggest marcoms group following its takeover of researcher TNS in 2008.

Its updated figures (last year mostly) show that WPP’s revenue rose 13 per cent to $12.1bn while Omnicom’s fell from $13.4bn to $11.7bn. Omnicom’s profits also tumbled 21 per cent to $793m but are still ahead of WPP’s rather ominous-sounding $666m

The reason is not hard to find, WPP currently employs some 141,000 people (although it was cutting jobs in this period) while Omnicom employs about 63,000.

WPP boss Sir Martin Sorrell would also say that his strong revenue growth shows the wisdom of diversifying away from advertising into data of various kinds, chiefly through his Kantar operation that now includes TNS. He recently stated that data was the future for marcoms groups, it being the one thing that clients had to buy whether they liked it or not.

It will be interesting to see how the figures pan out next time because Ommnicom will be benefiting strongly from the bounce back in traditional advertising through its strong agency networks BBDO, DDB and TBWA.

Omnicom boss John Wren, who says he’s unconcerned if WPP is bigger (bet he’s a bit concerned) has also raised a $1bn war chest and it’s likely that he’ll follow Sorrell down the data route, instanced by his pursuit of social media experts Communispace.

Quite a long way behind is Maurice Levy’s Publicis Groupe in third place on $6.4bn, overtaking Interpublic which saw a 13 per cent drop in revenue to $6bn. Put these two together and they’d be in first place (just) but both parties know that already too.

Publicis earned $573m in profits ahead of Japanese Dentsu with $341m. Dentsu’s profit was more combined than Interpublic, Havas and media buyer Aegis.

Do these numbers make it any more likely that we’ll see some big deals among this group in 2011?

Aegis is the perennial favourite with Havas boss Vincent Bollore’s holding company owning 30 per cent. But Aegis recently bought Australia’s Mitchell Communications, adding to its debt. But my chum Stuart Smith reports that Mitchell is not quite the jewel Aegis thought it was.

WPP would have share of market problems with such a purchase, Omnicom however has just two media networks, OMD and PHD, and is well-regarded in Australia.

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.