WPP CEO Mark Read on global ad recovery, Out of Home, in-housing and creativity in everything

WPP CEO Mark Read has been telling executives from the Out of Home industry about how the new WPP operates (it’s a creative problem-solver for clients) its commitment to zero carbon emissions, the road to recovery for the global ad industry and the balance to be struck between brand building and performance marketing.

A confident Read (WPP outperformed its ad holding group rivals in Q1 2021 with 3% growth) was speaking at the World Out of Home Organization’s virtual European Forum in an interview with WOO President Tom Goddard.

On Out of Home specifically Read predicted a strong recovery from a pandemic-hit 2020 in the UK and US. He forecast rises of 31% this year and 41% next for the UK and 22% and 20% respectively for the US. He pointed to the importance of digital OOH, which has grown by 15% at a time when OOH overall declined by 30%.

“The key question is where OOH fits in an commerce dominated business world” he said. “OOH builds brands, raises awareness and gives brands stature, and with OOH now being increasingly digitised, this adds the strengths of giving campaigns more relevance and speed and the ability to be tailored to time of day, different audiences and updated messages. Continuing digitisation should enable the medium to move up from its seven per cent share of global ad revenue.”

Read also addresses a number of wider issues including performance marketing (and its shortcomings) and client in-housing.

“If I were running a campaign for WPP I’d probably put it on OOH in major airports. I’d certainly much rather be running an OOH media company than a magazine or newspaper these days.”

Read instanced examples of outstanding OOH creativity by WPP agencies Ogilvy for Dove in the pandemic and AKQA, building engagement and sales for Nike in Brazil.

Read also warned of the danger of clients putting greater investment into performance media than brand building media and was sceptical of the trend for client in-housing where agency teams work from their clients’ offices. “A number of WPP firms already provide this service, notably The&Partnership and Hogarth, and we can make our offerings faster, more agile, more responsive and reduce the volume and cost of content.

“But when everyone is working remotely I don’t know why clients want to obsess about in-housing when there is no house for them to be in. We’ve been working remotely and our revenues and client satisfaction scores have still gone up. I think it’s challenging enough for our clients to run their businesses as it is without running creative organisations.”

Under Read WPP’s sees its main activity as ideas and creativity, helping clients connect with consumers, build relationships and drive sales in an increasing number of ways, including social media, influencers and other channels.

“We have provided a mobile app for Delta Airlines and commerce sites for Sainsburys and Net-a Porter and do a lot of Tech and CRM work for other clients. If we are just tied to pure media advertising, we don’t have the same growth prospects. We have to broaden the offer.”

WPP is pledged to eliminate its carbon emissions in the supply chain, Read said. “We’ll use the power of our $60 billion billings to drive change in the industry in the next nine years.”

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