WPP’s end of year hiring freeze shows problems of managing diverse group

Much kerfuffle about a memo from WPP financial controller David Barker imposing a hiring freeze on the embattled group’s agencies, hardly a surprise as WPP as battling falling sales and revenues. Apparently WPP was planning to hire about 2,000 people before the end of the year.

Barker (left) somewhat injudiciously said this was to “protect” WPP rather than just mind the cash at the turn of the year when work and therefore income dries somewhat.

But these actions can be revealing all the same: last year WPP instructed its financial managers to delay paying any bills they could until 2018, a traditional sign that all isn’t well and it’s better to keep the money in the bank earning interest before you announce your next set of numbers. Sometimes it means you don’t have any money, of course, but WPP surely hasn’t reached that point yet.

Some time soon WPP CEO Mark Read will announced the conclusions of his strategy review, which may well see more mergers along the lines of VML and Y&R and, at the tail end of the Sir Martin Sorrell regime, media agencies Maxus and MEC into the new Wavemaker. It’s clearly not advisable to hire people for jobs in somewhere that may no longer exist though nobody at WPP seems to have told the unfortunate management team at Y&R London, who were still hiring even as they were de-hired.

The problem is accentuated by the rambling nature of WPP with still around 400 companies, some which may be doing very nicely and need more staff.

Maybe new Ogilvy Group London CEO Michael Frohlich is right to offer everyone in the agency voluntary redundancy terms after all.

Rip it up and start again, as they say.

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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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