So, what advice would you give to the new chief of WPP?

Clockwise from top left: Jones, Tilbian, Eccleshare, Murphy, and Coleman
Clockwise from top left: Jones, Tilbian, Eccleshare, Murphy, and Coleman

Campaign asked adland figures and longtime observers to explain what they think Sir Martin Sorrell's successor, heavily tipped to be Mark Read, should do to turn WPP's fortunes around.

David Jones, CEO of You & Mr Jones and former CEO of Havas

I don't know Mark but his reputation is good. That said the task facing him is huge. Can the new captain avoid the iceberg?

The fact that he's taken over post Sorrell leaving in a scandal as opposed to stepping down in the normal course of things will actually remove a lot of the pressure and the unfair comparisons.

Mark is stepping up at a time they are in serious trouble not taking over a company doing brilliantly.
WPP in many respects is where Kodak was 15 years ago. Being the biggest company in yesterday's industry is a tough place to be. And without a fairly dramatic reinvention they will go the way of Kodak.
I think there are three key things he could do:

One, I don't think WPP can be successful in the future as a public company. He needs to take it private. The quarter-on-quarter earnings pressure and dramatic difference between the valuations of agency groups and tech companies – the former trading at 1 to 1.5x revenue the latter at 10- 20x revenue will make it impossible to turn WPP around as a public company.

Two, he needs to make some big bets on technology and technology companies. This is a space he knows better than Sorrell. These bets will be high risk and expensive but if they come off he will reinvent the business. Without that WPP will increasingly become less relevant. But imagine where Kodak would be today if they'd bought Instagram.

Three, he could sell Ogilvy to Accenture – Accenture would pay a nice price for it as they want to grow that side of their business. WPP doesn't need more than one global network (they are now a liability) and they could put that cash into tech, say buying Sprinklr or Percolate. He could also sell Millward Brown to Deloitte. 

Adrian Coleman, co-chief executive of Chime Group

The first thing to do is restore trust among staff and clients. WPP seems rather like a wounded beast at the moment and morale is not the highest. The new chief needs to get on the front foot and set out his vision for where the group is going in the future to bring staff with him.

Clients need reassurance too. As we’ve seen a few have started to leave and they need to be reminded of why they came to WPP in the first place. Tying those two strands together means getting the focus back on the work. Producing great work attracts great clients and means people enjoy the job, and winning new business will come on the back of that.

When you put the best brains at WPP together there isn’t anybody who can really compete with them, but that ideal is impeded by all the fiefdoms and by the range of working cultures that have resulted from so many acquisitions. A WPP culture needs fostering as there isn’t one at the moment. Group agencies tend to compete with each other – you need to make them understand that ultimately only one bottom line really matters.

Together with simplifying the structure of the group, it should be a bit more entrepreneurial and less bureaucratic. Rather than so much decision-making taking place at the top, trust your lieutenants and let them get on with it. Clients need to see it’s not a one-man band.

Lastly, look for cost savings by reorganising offices into regional super-hubs. Do agencies need their flag in every country these days?

William Eccleshare, chairman and CEO of Clear Channel International, former chairman and CEO of BBDO, and former European chairman and CEO of Y&R

The very last thing the new WPP CEO will want is advice from industry well-wishers. But that’s the brief so here goes …

I’d move fast to bring media planning and creative back together. As media becomes ever-more fragmented and complex for clients to navigate, keeping it close to brand strategy and content development is critical. It’s not necessarily back to the future but there are clear lessons from the past and they should be learned and acted upon.

WPP has often boasted of the number of brands it has acquired. The problem is that too many of them are not market leaders and add little value to the parent. I think some very radical culling, merging and swallowing will be needed. The internal competition that was encouraged is not productive and urgent simplification of the P&L around clients would be a quick and relatively easy win.

The other side of the culling coin should be to liberate and empower the leadership of some of the jewels in the WPP crown. Very few clients really buy into the holding company and the stifling of the great agency names in the interest of short-term shareholder value has been to the long-term detriment of the business. 

The strong leaders within the operating companies have been smothered by the parent and nurturing them under a new less centralised regime should be a priority.

Good luck to whoever takes this on – you’re inheriting some of the best people in our business – look after them!

Lorna Tilbian, veteran analyst of the advertising and marketing sectors

The King is dead, long live the king! So the new CEO of WPP has been crowned. The City has been waiting with baited breath to see who would be chosen to fill the big shoes of WPP's founder, Sir Martin Sorrell. The man who often cited and absolutely believed Bill Shankly's quote that some people thought football (for which insert WPP) was a matter of life and death, but it was much more serious than that.

So assuming the new King of Adland has all the necessary skills sets talked about since the founder's departure - Silicon Valley and digital expertise, operational experience, public markets know-how - what does he do next? Well, he confronts the new normal - a world where the client wants more for less, where he or she wants everything faster, better, cheaper. A world which belongs to the agile and nimble disruptor, where everyone is entrepreneurial, not just the CEO. As Marc Pritchard of P&G said at a Cannes Lions session last year, he wants closer co-operation and co-ordination amongst the competing agencies on his roster. He wants deadly competitors who box all day now to kiss all night in the interests of the client. A tough one for the new man in charge.

James Murphy, group chief executive, Adam & Eve/DDB

Differentiate your offering better – what is the difference between Y&R, Grey, O&M and JWT? Or any of the ‘M’ media agencies? Having a portfolio of undifferentiated agency networks doesn’t attract a wider variety of clients or talent looking for different thing, and so doesn’t make business sense. 

Gain an unfair share of the talent – have fewer, better people. Hire only the best and brightest. Omnicom have shown that independently minded creative talent can flourish in holding companies. Give your people leaders they admire for their creativity and independence not corporate ladder climbers. Make working at a WPP company a badge of honour like working for McKinsey or Goldmans. 

Remember the creativity – creativity is the strongest weapon against the consultants and cost-controllers. WPP needs to be a proudly creative business, not just a big marketing services provider. 

Look like you enjoy it – it’s a tough job right now, with challenges everywhere and the spectre of the former incumbent lurking in dark corners. But it’s an honour and a privilege to lead a UK based global player, full of talented people who will work all hours needed, as long as they have fun doing it. 

Do something surprising – do all the right things like simplifying the offering, divesting to reduce debt, and encouraging greater unity between the businesses. But make a few more radical and surprising moves too.

Peter Scott, CEO of Be Heard Group and former CEO of Engine Group

My only observation would be to try to define why WPP exists, from a client perspective. Can you find a compelling reason for WPP to exist going through the next 10 years, can it still grow by more than the sum of its individual parts? Landgrabs are over, the days of just getting a bigger market share by buying more competing brands are over, the days of big volume in media driving your margins are over.

If you can’t find that reason, then break it up. I’ve never been a fan of competing brands under common ownership because I’ve never seen a benefit either to clients or to the people working there. What is the benefit of having Ogilvy and Grey and Y&R and JWT and others, all under the same banner, under "common ownership"? You can make an argument for scale in media buying, but is there an argument for scale in creative?

Apart from that, let me say that from an industry perspective we all wish Mark damn good luck. We want whatever emerges from this to be a great success. Advertising is a very disorientated and disaggregated industry at the moment and we’ve got to have some clear leadership and some clear winners out there. We don’t want to be seeing the big holding companies, which were the great success stories of the 90s and the early 21st century, all suffering and going backwards. We’ve got to find a way to get our industry back to confidence and being valued.

Start Your Free 30-Day Free Trial

Get the very latest news and insight from Campaign with unrestricted access to , plus get exclusive discounts to Campaign events.

Become a subscriber


Don’t miss your daily fix of breaking news, latest work, advice and commentary.

register free