Read’s running commentary creates more unease at WPP

I wonder if new WPP CEO Mark Read is wise to offer a running commentary on the embattled group’s fortunes? He’s at it today in Campaign, musing on merging agencies and WPP’s travails in North America.

When he took the job following the enforced departure of founder and CEO Sir Martin Sorrell he said he’d carry out a thoroughgoing review, scheduled to be unveiled in December. This is a way of buying time of course and it’s fair enough for Read, who’d been running Wunderman without a seat on the main board, to take some time to have a good look around.

But time waits for no man and WPP’s Q3 growth numbers were poor, going into reverse. Read’s subsequent comments were taken by the markets as a profit warning – fair enough too, most incoming CEOs say everything in the garden isn’t as lovely as thought. But is he planning a big write-off, as many do, to herald a new start?

And merging Y&R into VML, with VML definitely on top, was something nobody expected – not least Y&R managers. Shouldn’t this, assuming it’s wise, have been a consequence of the review?

His hand has been forced to a degree by the poor Q3 numbers, which WPP clearly didn’t expect when announcing its Q2 figures, and a string of subsequent account losses including Ford creative and big media accounts including United Airlines, Amex and Mercedes.

Read says WPP’s media agencies are still performing but, with the exception of MediaCom, the previously all-conquering gaggle under GroupM seem to have lost their pitch mojo.

All of this will impact WPP’s full year numbers and also 2019.

People are bound to speculate about what’s in store at WPP and Read may be right in thinking he’s got to say something. He has, after all, succeeded one of the most voluble CEOs on the planet.

WPP managers and staff, though, will be thinking who’s next? Which is hardly healthy.

Read would do well to name the day he announces his review (as soon as possible) and leave the speculators to speculate.

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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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