Ad holding companies are recovering strongly – but they need to get their priorities right

Is the worst over for the ad holding companies? Their obituary is written regularly (almost daily in the early stages of the pandemic) but both WPP and Interpublic have seen their shares hit year-highs recently, a sign that investors are banking on a strong recovery.

Anything could happen, of course, a world still ravaged by Covid-19, not to mention other clouds on the horizon like trade wars (and others) with the likes of China and Russia. We hear regularly that the planet is going to hell in a handcart thanks to global warming.

But in a tech-dominated business world agencies seem to have found a role for themselves as big tech’s handmaiden – doing some of the heavy lifting the tech aristocrats can’t be bothered with – and also handling an increasing number of big budget above the line campaigns as the ever-growing number of platforms seek to differentiate themselves.

Amazon is now a massive advertiser, TikTok is entering the fray, Facebook may see advertising as a way of mitigating its regulatory woes and Microsoft was recently declared Cannes Lions creative advertiser of the year. Apple usually sets the advertising bar. The new streaming giants like Discovery-Warner are also coming on stream.

The ultimate irony would be if the ad holding companies’ new-found focus on “business transformation” leaves them without the creative resources to mine this potentially valuable seam. Getting their priorities right may be the defining factor if the current rise in fortunes is to be made permanent.

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