Emerging markets slowdown and PR cast a shadow over WPP’s half-year results

Time was when full and half year figures were enough of a mystery for men with large dogs to patrol the printing sites used to bring such news to investors. Which was how Williams Lea, owner of TAG among others, first made its money incidentally.

But that was then and WPP’s half year results, announced today, are not a surprise with the possible exception of a poor performance from the company’s extensive PR interests with revenues down 3.6 per cent. Big mergers and takeovers have dried up a bit but it still isn’t a great performance from PR and no doubt WPP boss Sir Martin Sorrell (left) will be contemplating further surgery.

Advertising and media buying were, once again, the strongest areas for WPP with the US and, particularly, the UK the strongest performers. Emerging markets, the cornerstone of WPP’s recent strategy along with digital, slowed rather alarmingly and, with fears about China and India’s Himalayan debt mountains growing, will be the biggest worry for Sorrell who posted overall revenue up just over five per cent and organic growth of 2.4 per cent.

This is OK, if hardly spectacular, and doesn’t really give us much of a clue as to how WPP will perform in the post PubliCom era, should that deal meet the approval of the world’s regulators – of whom there are now a bewildering number.

The third worry for Sorrell – alongside merging markets and PR – is the fact that PubliCom – the merger of Omnicom and Publicis Groupe – will now become the bellwether stock for investors who want to bet on advertising, marketing and media spend rather than former market leader WPP.

Sorrell was typically bullish, pointing to problems for PubliCom in terms of people clashes rather than client problems for the new leviathan.

The slowdown in emerging markets is likely to be a bigger issue. For all of them.

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About Stephen Foster

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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.