- WPP has named Mark Read as its new CEO and appointed him to the ad holding company's board as executive director, the company announced in a news release. Industry reports of Read's appointment first surfaced last week, and he has been a front runner for the role since founder and longtime CEO Martin Sorrell resigned in April.
- Read has served as WPP's co-chief operating officer, handling day-to-day operations, since Sorrell's departure. Read joined the company in 1989 and later worked at the consulting firm Booz Allen & Hamilton, per the release. The executive has worked on WPP's digital development for more than 10 years and was previously named CEO of WPP's Wunderman shop in 2015.
- Since Sorrell's resignation, Roberto Quarta had served as temporary CEO of WPP. He will now resume his role as non-executive chairman. Andrew Scott will continue his role as chief operating officer permanently. Sorrell congratulated Read, but said he would have preferred seeing the company have a co-CEO role held by both Read and Scott, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Read takes the helm of WPP at a tough time for the ad giant, which today (Sept. 4), the day after his official appointment, saw its shares tumble amid continued business pressures in key markets. Like-for-like net sales at WPP slipped 3% in North America over the three-month period ending in June, according to a separate report in the Journal, which, in turn, sent shares in the company falling by as much as 8% in early morning trading.
Beyond struggles with growth, Read is also stepping in as CEO while WPP fights to keep some key clients' business. The automaker Ford, which has worked with WPP for decades, put large parts of its advertising account up for review in April, and recently gave short-term creative assignments to competitor agency Wieden + Kennedy. American Express in May put its considerable global media business up for review after 20 years working WPP's Mindshare agency. That month, banking and financial services giant also HSBC said it was moving its estimated $400 million global media business from WPP's Mindshare to Omnicom's PHD.
There have been a few bright spots for WPP in the meantime. Mondelez last month brought WPP's GroupM onto the list of agencies that it works with following a media review that launched in March. Petcare and confectionary giant Mars around the same time tapped GroupM for its consolidated media planning and buying functions after a review started earlier this year. Both marketers cited desires for greater digital transformation, innovation and data insights as the reason for the their reviews and selections of WPP agencies.
Read has a strong background in this type of transformation given his experience with digital development at WPP. It will be interesting to see how the executive will handle the accelerated streamlining of the ad holding group that began under his predecessor. In 2017, WPP saw flat like-for-like, top-line growth. Client spending shifts resulted in a 5.4% decline in like-for-like billings, the company's worst performance in nearly a decade. Following the results, WPP announced plans to integrate its offerings to spur growth.
Since Sorrell's departure, many have also speculated on whether WPP, which is the world's largest ad holding company, would be broken up. Read told The Wall Street Journal that he doesn't plan to merge or sell any of WPP's more than 400 companies and will instead focus on making them more closely align with its digital advertising and data-science groups.