Now WPP restructures design agency empire


More restructuring at WPP – this is fun for all the family, running into 2018 and maybe beyond – with the news in Campaign that five of its design agencies are to be rolled into one under the leadership of Brand Union’s Jim Prior (left). Prior is currently CEO of The Partners and Lambie-Nairn. The others are Brand Union, Addison Group and Vbat based in Amsterdam.

Brand Union’s Simon Bolton will be executive chairman.

As yet this is another ‘newco,’ as was recently merged media agency MEC/Maxus until it found the name Wavemaker lying around, which was MEC’s nascent content division. Another newco suggest a degree of haste: designers are supposed to be good at naming things.

So what’s it to be: Brand Union (makes sense in a merger) or maybe WPP Design. But that would look rather like Publicis’ restructure into Communications, Media and the rest.

WPP is under pressure to simplify its structure amid slowing growth. The company’s top management recently gathered at Google HQ in Paolo Alto (Google is WPP’s famed ‘frenemy’ piquantly) and the various changes emerging seem partly a result of that. Sources inside and outside WPP think GroupM UK boss Nick Theakstone is set to be named as WPP’s first UK boss, in overall charge of its 70 or so UK companies (or the P&Ls of them anyway, Theakstone is a famed negotiator). WPP doesn’t agree.

Placing companies under a centralised management is one way of cutting costs, of course. ‘Delayering’ as it’s euphemistically known. It’s already happening to regional management at the new Wavemaker.

The creation of, in effect, country managers and design and other divisional heads would also create a pool of internal candidates as possible successors to CEO Sir Martin Sorrell, should he depart for whatever reason. Re-organising WPP’s British empire would also give him more time to spend in the US, where most of WPP’s problems lie.

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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.

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