Mark Read sets out his stall as CEO-in-waiting at WPP

WPP joint COO Mark Read has been telling the FT his plans for WPP, assuming he gets the chance of implementing them as the eventual successor to Sir Martin Sorrell. He says he wants the job.

Read (below) is currently sharing the COO role with corporate development director Andrew Scott but he’s the one on the front line, dealing with a number of big client reviews including Ford. He’s the head of WPP Digital and a former board director. Latterly he’s been running WPP’s biggest digital agency Wunderman, where he was quick to make changes with a seeming marked improvement in Wunderman’s performance.

Wunderman is WPP’s key weapon in the battle with consultancy-owned agencies including Accenture interactive and Deloitte Digital.

In his interview Read strikes a more conciliatory note than his former boss, saying that WPP needs to work with the likes of Amazon, Facebook and Google and also agreeing that the consultancies do pose a threat (which Sorrell never really acknowledged) although pointing out that they don’t do everything briliantly: they do some things well and others less so – much like WPP.

He also acknowledges that some bits of the WPP empire are performing better than others; instancing its digital agencies (VML as well as Wunderman) and media buying behemoth GroupM (whose key buying unit employs remarkably few people although its member media agencies employ thousands of what are, in effect, planners). This will surprise some as GroupM is thought to have suffered as a result of the US ANA report into media transparency three years ago.

Others are not doing so well although he won’t specify which bits or comment on possible disposals. The official party line, outlined by Read and Scott in a memo last week, is that WPP is stronger together because that’s what clients want. Even so most people think research business Kantar, which makes about £300m, would be sold if someone came up with a bid north of £3bn – provided that WPP retained access to its data goodies. Not an easy deal.

Read has always been measured and reasonable; far less inclined to the grandstanding so beloved of his former boss. You can’t imagine him pontificating at Davos, dressed like an eskimo.

He has some important allies too. The&Partnership’s Johnny Hornby is batting for him although Hornby, too, could be a CEO candidate.

But Read has made a good start. Let’s see what he’s really dealing with when WPP reveals its first quarter results at the end of April.

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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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