It appears WPP is having none of Sir Martin Sorrell’s taunts, its CEO, Mark Read, announcing over the weekend the world’s biggest media company was back on the acquisitions hustings.
Read telling the UK’s The Financial Times: “A house is built on firm foundations. Our foundations today are much firmer than they were two years ago. We are simpler. Our balance sheet is in better shape. Actually, it is time to start to look at how we grow and where we need to invest.”
What exactly WPP would go after remains unclear, however it appears to be good news for independent agencies with a data, digital, tech focus.
Read added: “We don’t just want to make the business bigger, we want to really focus acquisitions in the areas that can differentiate our offer and provide something distinct.
“We don’t want to buy a fourth public relations firm in Uruguay,” Read said. “It is really . . . acquisitions we can make that bring us scale.”
Since taking the reins at WPP just over two years ago, Read has reduced the company’s debt from £5.2 billion ($A9.4 billion) to £1.5 billion ($A2.7 billion) by folding its 485 agencies into just 250.
Meanwhile, WPP’s former supremo, Sir Martin Sorrell, has repeatedly taken potshots at the company, saying it was too big to compete, wasn’t digitally led, was paying non-digitally savvy staff too much money and it should be broken up.
Sorrell has repeatedly said WPP’s media arm, GroupM, was about the only part of the business worth keeping.
There’s long been speculation that Sorrell’s new venture, S4, could make a play for parts of WPP, however, that’s arguably as much about revenge as it is business acumen.
According to The Financial Times report any new acquisitions wouldn’t be announced until December when WPP would make an announcement to the UK stock exchange.
Read also hit back at Sorrell’s criticism that WPP was too heavily invested in TV ad dollars.
“We don’t have departments of people that just do linear television commercials any more,” he said. “In the first half [of 2020] around 40 per cent of our billings were in digital, but more than 40 per cent of our fees came from digital media,” Read said.
“If a client spends £100 on TV, we would historically make £3. If a client spends £100 on Google, we may make £5 or £6 because it’s more complicated to manage Google than it is to manage TV. Shifting the budget from TV to Google is not a bad thing [for WPP],” he said.
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