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Tom DenfordMay 21, 20182 min read

The New WPP Playbook

 What would a radical revamp of WPP look like? Tom Denford reimagines the world’s biggest holding company.

With the departure of Sir Martin Sorrell comes a huge opportunity. A unique chance to recreate WPP in a way that makes it fit for today.

Truly this is a company that needs new structure designed to take better advantage of the huge array of talent available across its many brands. Right now it’s incredibly confusing and ill-equipped to serve client needs.

The bottom line is that clients want simplicity and agility and, for all the talent in WPP, right now it’s too complex and slow to deliver on those critical needs.

I’d argue that it’s time for the company’s new leadership to take a leaf out of Google’s  book and rethink its assets around skills and benefits. The company’s parent company Alphabet now oversees not just Google but also Google X, CapitalG and GV, among others.

As with pre-Alphabet Google, WPP needs major surgery needed to create a more manageable operation that marketers can understand and see value in.

In adopting this model, of course, there would have to radical steps and also sell offs. For a start, those investments in content enterprises such as Vice and Refinery29, which are irrelevant to its core task of delighting consumers and marketing directors, should be sold off.

That not only raises lots of cash but also frees up the bulk of the company to form two powerful combinations designed to bring together lines of business currently organised in competing silos.


Firstly, GroupM becomes the execution brand, folding long-standing brands such as MindShare and Mediacom and leaving the current leadership to focus on three core areas: technology data and buying. With a single technology platform, and the ability to buy and sell at a variety of transparency levels, depending on the client or the business outcome, it would become far more responsive to advertiser needs.

The second part of the business are the creative assets, the Y&Rs, the JWTs but also Essence and Wunderman. These companies would offer creative consulting and business transformation services, as well as the planning expertise that used to reside within the media agency brands.  

All these businesses would have powerful leaders who would be able to strike deals and act quickly without having to refer upstairs to a powerful overlord, delivering the agility that’s so important in today fast-paced world.

This is the journey that some of WPP’s rivals have already made. They have simplified their businesses as demanded by clients, notably at Havas and Dentsu Aegis.

That was much more difficult at WPP because Sir Martin Sorrell was emotional about the businesses he bought. The mere idea of removing brands would be hard, of shrinking or selling off the companies he had masterminded acquisition would be hard.

WPP has a unique opportunity. For the first time in since it stopped selling supermarket trolleys, it has new leadership, less personally involved leadership. Now all it needs is the willingness to take the bold steps that are needed to meet client needs.




Tom Denford

Tom Denford is one of the world’s most trusted advisors to senior marketing and procurement leaders on navigating media and digital transformation. With 20 years’ experience in the marketing industry, which covers senior global roles in creative and media agencies, Tom co-founded ID Comms in 2009, with ambition for the company to be the world experts in maximising media value and performance.