WPP reveals Manchester campus in push to be less 'London-centric'

WPP: new building hopes to attract start-ups
WPP: new building hopes to attract start-ups

Agencies must 'understand the fruit salad that is modern Britain', UK chief Karen Blackett says.

WPP has unveiled a long-awaited plan for its five agencies in Manchester to move into a single location as part of a drive to expand in the north west of England and be less "London-centric".

Britain’s biggest agency group has agreed a 15-year lease for a new "campus" building in Enterprise City, a redevelopment that includes the site of the former Granada Studios.

The 82,000-square-foot, eight-floor building includes a roof terrace, café, bar and events area. The office space will have capacity for 800 people when it is ready in 2022.

WPP currently employs about 520 people in Manchester, the company’s second-biggest market in the UK after London.

They work at five agencies: MediaCom, Wavemaker, Kinetic, Code Computerlove and Cheetham Bell.

A creative hub for Manchester

Karen Blackett, UK country manager at WPP, said Manchester is already a "significant" city for the UK’s creative industries and "it’s an area where we want to grow our presence".

She expects more of WPP’s agencies to open offices in the Manchester campus, which is why the company is leasing a building with room to grow.

WPP also wants its new space to be a "creative hub" for the city and plans to build links with local businesses and schools.

Blackett hopes the campus can be what she calls a "skunkworks" that can provide space for entrepreneurs who might want access to WPP’s expertise in marketing, finance and other specialisms.

"By building a brand new home for our agencies and a creative hub for the city, we’re investing in both our future and in the future economy of Manchester," she said.

The landlord, Allied London, is creating a co-working space, called All Work & Social, to attract start-ups to the building.

Michael Ingall, chief executive of Allied London, said it hopes the larger Enterprise City complex can be a "creative cluster" with "a real buzz" that "modern industries will flock to".

Blackett is familiar with Manchester because she was previously UK chief executive of MediaCom, which has enjoyed strong growth in the region in recent years.

"What you have more of in Manchester is more ‘new economy’ brands," she said, naming ecommerce companies such as Booking.com, Misguided, AO.com and PrettyLittleThing.

Most of WPP’s 14,000 UK staff are based in the capital, but "there is opportunity that isn’t just based in London", Blackett said.

She continued: "We have a number of clients who operate outside London for whatever reason – whether that’s to do with business rates or where the company originated from – and we need to go where our clients are."

Blackett said the trend for brands to bring some of their marketing services in-house or on-site is another reason to be located in close proximity to clients.

'If I was in my twenties, I would definitely do a stint in Manchester'

Blackett, who is the UK government’s race equality champion, added that she sees the Manchester expansion as part of her mission to "make our industry more inclusive and diverse".

She explained: "For me, this is part of making sure that as an agency you understand the fruit salad that is modern Britain and that can’t have a London-centric lens on it."

Blackett played down the suggestion that WPP is looking to expand outside London because it is cheaper, although she feels it would be easier for young people "to get a foot on the housing ladder" in Manchester compared with the south east of England.

"If I was in my twenties, I would definitely do a stint in Manchester," she said. "It’s just as vibrant, it’s got just as much cultural influence and it’s a fun city. The work is just as good; the creativity is there."

Architecture group BDG, a WPP business, is designing the interior of the building, which will be "a flexible and inclusive working environment with well-being at the heart of its design", according to the company.

WPP has begun a policy of moving most of its staff and agencies into single, shared campus-style locations in most major cities around the world to increase collaboration, simplify operations and cut costs.

It wants 64,000 of its 130,000 staff to be in co-locations by the end of 2021 and 85,000 by the end of 2023.

"WPP campuses not only give our people amazing, inspiring spaces in which to work, learn and create, but provide our clients with easier access to our expertise," Blackett said.

Dentsu Aegis Network has more than 500 staff in Manchester, where its agencies are located chiefly in one location and the group has said it remains "committed" to the site in Portland Street, following speculation that it has been considering a move to a new development called Circle Square.

Interpublic, which chiefly includes McCann Worldgroup, also has about 600 staff in and around Manchester.

None of the other big six agency groups has such large operations in Manchester.

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