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WPP to ‘horizontalise’ digital, and merge data with media

WPP is planning to restructure digital and data in 2018, after 2017 results showed the world’s largest communications group flatlining last year.

The data branch of WPP has long been an underperformer – in 2017 its like-for-like revenues were down 2.9 per cent, with North America and Asia Pacific described as “particularly difficult” – but Sorrell is determined to hang on to it and recently consolidated it into Kantar Consulting.

He says data is “extremely important,” and to sell it would be “weakening.” Presumably because it is something clients definitely need and he doesn’t want them to go elsewhere for it, least of all to the consultants.

So the new plan is to align data investment management with media. Sorrell said that “the marriage of data and media” has been providing rapid growth for WPP lately, alongside the group’s two other star performers: production management platform Hogarth, and digital.

WPP also has plans for digital. Sorrell wants to “horizontalize” it, in the same way he has done with Hogarth, which is now rolled out across the whole WPP enterprise and has tripled revenues in the last three to four years.

It’s not quite clear yet how it will all work, but the share price is recovering (a bit) and it looks like a plan.

Talking of plans, WPP succession management is always worth mulling over. Mark Read, who once looked like an heir apparent but whose prospects didn’t look so great when he was booted off the board three years ago, seems to be back in favour.

Read lost his place at the top table when he was made global CEO of Wunderman on top of his role as CEO of WPP Digital (no other network chief is on the board, so it would have looked like favouritism to keep him there). At the 2017 results presentation, however, he was at Sorrell’s side, and we learned that Wunderman is already 65 per cent bigger than when he took the reins three years ago, which means Read is looking like a contender again.

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