What does a $31 billion market cap earn the world’s largest ad agency holding group? A status as amongst the most diversified and forward-thinking of communications agencies out there.
When Sir Martin Sorrell took a controlling stake in what was then a shopping basket maker, Wire & Plastic Products, in 1985, little did most peers suspect the former Saatchi & Saatchi finance chief would go on to make WPP as influential as it is today.
WPP’s scale has grown steadily through a seemingly-neverending series of acquisitions and investments. These days, it is almost rarer for a week to go by when WPP hasn’t been involved in such a deal, as the company builds up an arsenal of marketing data, analytics, content production and other units.
So what is in Sorrell’s crystal ball for the years ahead? “I think we’ll see more consolidation. There will also be a blurring of the lines,” he tells Beet.TV in this video interview for Beet.TV’s “Media Revolutionaries” series.
That blurring is occurring partly as marketing technology vendors, who already help clients understand customer data, buy in to data-driven ad-tech platforms, and vice versa. WPP’s CEO sees an emerging middle ground on which multiple large players will all offer all manner of services their founders could not have dreamed of. But, these days, marketing firms are also editorial content makers and content platforms are also analytics providers.
“When people talk about who our competitors are, we think about Omnicom or we think about Publicis, IPG, Havas or Dentsu or Ipsos, GfK or Nielsen,” Sorrell says. “But we also think about Google, Facebook, Amazon, Alibaba, we also think about Deloitte Consulting and Accenture.
“Those lines are going to get more and more blurred. You see what Salesforce is trying to do, what Adobe is trying to do, what Oracle with (its acquisition of) Datalogix is trying to do. This is all a blurring of the lines.”
It is no wonder lines are blurring. WPP itself has lately been buying in to an array of mead segments. Recent deals include pieces of Spanish football rightsholder Imagina, House Of Cards studio MRC and YouTube multi-channel network Fullscreen, long-form digital video producer Indigenous Media, FullScreen and Vice Media. The company has even invested in the formation of a new sports marketing firm Bruin Sports Capital, to double down on popular live sports, and Sorrell calls WPP “a content company” as well as everything else. But it is recent stakes in measurement firms comScore andRentrak and stake in ad tech company AppNexus that underscore WPP’s interest in numbers.
“All these are good examples of us putting a stake in the ground in tech, data, sports and entertainment,” Sorrell adds. “From a functional point of view, it’s going to become more and more competitive.”
Next, WPP is rumoured to be preparing a bid to buy Dunnhumby, the data marketing specialist that has been the catalyst behind much of UK supermarket giant Tesco’s growth, according to WSJ.
So, nevermind “Wired & Plastic Products”; WPP could soon stand for “Wide Product Portfolio”.
This is the first from Beet.TV’s “Media Revolutionaries”, a 50-part series of interviews with key innovators and leaders in the media, technology and advertising industries, sponsored by Xaxis and Microsoft. Xaxis is a unit of WPP.
Sorrell was interviewed for Beet.TV by David J. Moore, Chairman of Xaxis and President of WPP Digital. The interview took place in January at the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas during the Consumer Electronics Show.