Karen Blackett replaces Tom George as UK CEO of Group M

Blackett: new position is in addition to WPP UK country manager role
Blackett: new position is in addition to WPP UK country manager role

George has stepped down.

Karen Blackett is taking over from Tom George as Group M’s UK chief executive. The new role is in addition to her WPP UK country manager position, which she has held since 2018.

George has stepped down from the role after 15 years working at WPP.

Blackett will lead strategy and operations for Group M’s agency brands, which include Mindshare, MediaCom, Wavemaker, Essence and M/SIX, from the beginning of April.

The business is responsible for 43% of all of the UK media spend, according to the latest data from Comvergence.

Having joined MediaCom in 1999, Blackett became chief operations officer for EMEA in 2008 and then the agency’s UK CEO in 2011. Five years later, she became chairwoman of MediaCom UK and Ireland.

When Blackett was named the first UK country manager at WPP, she became the most important agency leader in the British ad industry, overseeing 14,000 people.

During her time as country manager, Blackett has launched initiatives around mentoring and cultural inclusion, such as WPP Roots.

Blackett received an OBE in 2014 and was named one of the most influential women in Britain by Vogue in 2018.

She is also a non-executive director of the Cabinet Office. Last month, she was a Campaign contributing editor for the magazine’s edition focused on celebrating BAME talent.

She praised George for his contribution to Group M and said she sees "so much opportunity across our agencies". 

Blackett said her priorities for Group M were helping the media agencies "accelerate and fly", collaborating more closely with other parts of WPP and taking more of a "leadership position" in UK advertising.

She added that she saw the role of Group M UK CEO as compatible with being WPP country manager. 

"Group M has always been and will continue to be part of my UK role," she said. "I don’t see it as a distraction. I see it as part of the same."

George joined WPP from Zenith in 2005 as managing director of MEC UK (now known as Wavemaker) and became CEO two years later.

In 2012, he added an extra nine markets to his remit when he was named chairman of northern Europe.

He took over from Nick Theakstone as Group M UK CEO in 2018, helping to retain some key accounts, including Sky, L'Oréal and Coca-Cola during major reviews.

George said he had a "fantastic" time during his 15 years at Group M.

"Now feels like the right time to move on and in Karen we have a fantastic leader taking over the reins," he said,

"I've had the privilege of working with Karen during my time in the group and she will undoubtedly drive further growth for the Group M and WPP business." 

It is unclear on what his next steps are, but Group M said that George "plans to remain active in the industry".

Christian Juhl, Group M’s global CEO, commented: "Karen has been an influential leader and change agent over the years, and we are thrilled to have her on board. She is the perfect example of someone who brings our vision of making advertising work better for people to life."

When WPP reported fourth-quarter results last week, the company said its flagship creative and media agencies performed "less well" in the UK, "particularly Group M".

UK net sales fell 3.7% in the fourth quarter compared with 3.1% growth in the third quarter. There was no mention of any impact from Brexit uncertainty but several major clients, including Three, Vodafone and Beiersdorf, departed Group M.

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