T&P’s on-the-up Hornby sinks Cannes, are Carter and Jones in the frame for WPP?

Those tectonic plates in adland are indeed shifting and conclusive evidence is that The&Partnership’s Johnny Hornby won’t be partying at Cannes on a yacht this year. Many of those who’ve enjoyed JH’s hospitality in the past are still mopping their fevered brows. Rosé-fuelled fun and games are of the agenda in a #MeToo year.

This alarming intelligence emerges from an interview in Campaign, in which Hornby (below) also discloses (rather less important this but we’ll mention it anyway) that T&P’s billings rose to £450m last year (thanks largely to the massive Toyota Europe account) with gross profit of £74.6m and Ebitda profit (profit after all the annoying bits) of £11.8m.

This surge Hornby ascribes to T&P’s “new model,” which is actually an old model: creative and media working mostly together. The new bits are our frenemy data and also T&P’s drive to deploy about half the staff of any account in or adjacent to the client’s offices. This was pioneered by production agencies Tag and Oliver but has been enthusiastically adopted by T&P and is now being copied by others including WPP’s giant digital agency Wunderman.

So it’s all go at The&Partnership and good luck to them. Does this have any bearing on WPP’s musings about who should succeed CEO Sir Martin Sorrell and when exactly?

WPP is a 49.9 per cent shareholder in T&P (originally Clemmow Hornby Inge & Partners), a connection that has benefited T&P mightily as it gives its media arm m/SIX (then, presumably, the sixth GroupM company) access to the WPP media behemoth’s deals and prices. Hornby and Sorrell don’t see eye to eye all the time – Hornby isn’t averse to tweaking SMS’s tail on occasions – but the deal has worked for both parties. Could Hornby’s new model and, indeed, Hornby be the way forward for WPP?

WPP is certain to try to rejig the relationship between its creative and media agencies but the reason it has lots of profit and loss lines across the empire is that they make it a lot of profit. So any fundamental structural change might be painful in the short term. Many of its top execs are from media – notably the recently anointed chief transformation officer Lindsay Pattison (from the now defunct Maxus) and UK country manager Karen Blackett, from MediaCom. They aren’t going to take kindly to being ushered back to the back of the building.

As for Hornby we speculated yesterday that he would make a good (albeit somewhat lively) team with former Tag boss and old mucker Steve Parish. “You can’t mean that” a few people said to me yesterday but it got them talking. Well why not?

Other outsiders are also emerging. Lord Carter (below), Stephen Carter as was, now boss of publishing and meetings giant Informa, keeps popping up. Carter gained his lordship after working for PM Gordon Brown but his background is advertising and media: initially at JWT then cable firm NTL and industry regulator Ofcom.

Another is David Jones, once CEO of Havas in its days as a listed agency group, and now founder and boss of You & Mr Jones, a tech-based marcoms group. Jones, like Hornby and Sorrell, has a well-stuffed black book of contacts and is an accomplished public performer.

But would they want it? Carter’s Informa is currently trying to take over smaller rival UBM in a £3.8bn deal which would make it the biggest such company in the world. Jones’ You and Mr Jones, which recently bought a majority in London agency Gravity Road, seems to on an upward curve although it’s hard to tell form the outside.

In Hornby’s case it’s pretty certain that he would find the challenge of running WPP irresistible although he’s not saying anything in public.

But back to more important matters. Was wondering whether to pop over to Cannes (our top team will be there of course). But can’t face the prospect of a yacht line-up sans Hornby, consisting almost solely of ad tech companies. Think he’s just holed the Festival below the waterline.

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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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