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CCO O’Keefe joins WPP senior exodus – former boss Sorrell fires a few more salvoes

WPP senior managers must be hoping CEO Mark Read emerges from his Zoom-wired study sooner rather than later as the (relative) escape from meetings seems to be prompting a sharp burst of decision-making.

As we report today, WPP is asking for £600m from the UK government to tide it over during Covid-19 (it’s a big employer with 107,000 people although most of those are outside the UK.) It’s also been announced that global CEO John Seifert is retiring from Ogilvy, which may herald big changes there. If Ogilvy stays more or less the same Read has to decide whether to instal an American – obvious enough but you suspect he’s more comfortable looking elsewhere.

And now WPP worldwide CCO John O’Keefe (above) is reportedly on his way. O’Keefe was brought in from BBH by Sir Martin Sorrell to make WPP, at the time better known for its boom-boom financial performance and reliance on media agencies than creativity, top creative dog too.

Cannes Lions had started choosing a holding company of the year too (it was clearly running out of gongs to charge for) and Omnicom – proud owner of BBDO, DDB and TBWA among others – was the customary winner. But O’Keefe managed to propel WPP to top spot seven years in a row before Omnicom resumed in 2018. So job done, then. It is now it seems.

There won’t be a Cannes this year, of course. And it’s doubtful anyway if holding company of the year actually means very much apart from submitting lots of entries at vast cost. One senior WPP network creative director told me before Cannes last year that the team of elves who organised his entries had been culled and he was having to do it. Which made him contemplate a change of career.

Sorrell, now the show-runner for S4Capital and its line-up of digital agencies, has been having another pop at WPP and its peers, telling Campaign Asia that they’re in the wrong business (analogue as opposed to digital), are too big (somewhat rich coming from him) and are facing a Darwinian Armageddon as Covid-19 accelerates the rush to digital (S4’s bag, of course.)

Sorrell says: “This challenge from C19 is going to unleash tremendous energy. It’s a bit like pruning a tree. I mean, it’s a terrible analogy, because there’s a tremendous human cost here, but there’s a Darwinian cull…that I think is going to happen.”

Intriguingly he also suggests, on the subject of top heavy agency costs, that some New York creative directors are on $4-5m “salary packages.” Well he should know – wonder who they are?

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