Blackett becomes first WPP UK boss, Theakstone moves to bigger role at GroupM

WPP has finally decided on its first country manager for the UK and it’s to be Karen Blackett, chairwoman of its biggest media agency Mediacom. The previous leading candidate, GroupM UK boss Nick Theakstone, is moving up at the WPP buying operation instead, becoming global chief investment officer, based in London and New York. Tom George, one-time boss of WPP’s MEC media agency, takes over from Theakstone as UK CEO of GroupM.

Blackett (below), who began her career media buying at CIA and Zenith, epitomises the diversity agencies are supposed to show these days. Her parents grew up in Barbados but she has become an establishment figure, voted most admired agency boss in a recent survey.

She says her priorities include getting WPP’s agencies to work “in a more joined-up and collaborative way,” developing new products and “managing and diversifying the talent base.” Her new job puts her in overall charge of £2bn in revenue and 17,000 staff.

Country managers seem to be popping up all over the place, presumably in response to criticism that agency holding companies are rag bags of big and small, successful and not so successful companies assembled over the years.

Controversial former JWT global boss Gustavo Martinez is said to be WPP’s new country manager in Spain (although not by WPP) while Annette King, previously boss of WPP’s Ogilvy group in the UK, has left to become Publicis Groupe’s first UK country manager.

Such appointments seem part of a plan to slim down holding companies to a few brands that actually mean something to staff, investors and clients. Presumably reporting lines become clearer too. One of Blackett’s challenges is to show she can surmount the traditional suspicion between creative agencies and media agencies; often to be found chasing the same client budget even though they have the same ultimate owner.

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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.