Read bans the word ‘digital’ and ditches nostalgia for new look WPP

If Mark Read was hoping to bury WPP’s bad news – 3500 redundancies – by announcing it on the day of the Brexit vote, he was disappointed.

Theresa May might have ducked out of her big challenge on December 11th, but the WPP CEO did not. Just across the Thames from the Houses of Parliament, at the company’s Sea Containers HQ, Read and his crack team put WPP’s new deal up for the vote in front of investors and analysts.

New WPP logo

As well as the redundancies, there’s the promise of a big investment in creative hires, especially in the US, and the establishment of a central new business team, including a leader who is due to be announced soon.

Anyone hoping to put some flesh on the bones of WPP’s announcement about staff cuts was disappointed. It looks like employees at the newly merged agencies will go into the Christmas period without much idea of their prospects for the New Year.

Read said: “You can’t be nostalgic about agency brands,” and the former CEO of WPP Digital wasn’t going to be nostalgic about digital either. In fact he said he wants to ban the word digital, and challenged his team to get through the afternoon without saying it.

It was a tall order, and nobody managed it, but he’d made his point: consumers don’t separate out digital, and agencies shouldn’t either. This is why merging Wunderman with JWT, and VML with Y&R, makes sense and means they are “positioned for growth, not doomed to decline.”

Read says there’ll be no more big agency mergers, like the much-mooted Grey with AKQA.

There was a big push to present Read’s plan for a “radical evolution” to turn WPP into a “creative transformation company” that is “open, optimistic and extraordinary.” Read admitted: “Culture is not a word we’ve been comfortable thinking about at WPP, but it’s critical if we want to get 134,000 people together.” (Make that 130,500 once the redundancies are made.)

The new WPP culture was represented by Lindsay Pattison, the chief transformation officer and chief client officer; UK country manager Karen Blackett; WPP China CEO Patrick Xu; chief technology officer Stephan Pretorius; and Tony Kalathara, ECD of David.

Wunderman UK CEO Pip Hulbert gave a short presentation on Adidas while JWT worldwide CEO, Tamara Ingram, looked on from the audience.

The newly formed VMLY&R was out in full force, with global CEO Jon Cook and global CCO Debbi Vandeven (both originally from VML) revealing that they had already won $25 million in new billings as a single entity, and giving a pretty convincing presentation about why the two agencies are better together. Convincing, that is, until Cook claimed that he was “excited about the name.”

Mark Read pulled in Unilever CMO Keith Weed to discuss business change, and Weed fed right into the new WPP philosophy when he talked about how he has too many conversations with different agencies about what is right for each media channel, when he’d rather be talking with fewer agencies about what’s right for the brand.

The Unilever CMO then went on to encapsulate advertising’s central problem: “No client is looking to spend more money creating assets, but we are all trying to create more assets.” Today Read delivered his answer to that conundrum, admitting that he had “deliberately avoided heroic forecasts” for the new look company, but expects WPP growth to be back in line with its peers by 2021.

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About Emma Hall

Emma Hall
Emma Hall is the former London Editor of Ad Age, where she covered European marketing advertising, digital and media stories. She has written for newspapers including the Financial Times, The Guardian, The Times and the Telegraph, and was previously a section editor at Campaign. Emma started her career in New York as a researcher for a biography of Keith Richards.

One comment

  1. All a bit too late to become transformative amongst such monoliths, the martech revolution which is the biggest threat to WPP started years ago.

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