|Public limited company|
|Traded as||LSE: WPP|
FTSE 100 Component
(Wire and Plastic Products plc)
(Sorrell acquisition and entry into advertising)
|Founder 👔||Martin Sorrell (as an advertising company)|
Area served 🗺️
|Revenue||£13,234.1 million (2019)|
|£1,295.9 million (2019)|
|£707.1 million (2019)|
Number of employees
WPP plc is a British multinational communications, advertising, public relations, technology, and commerce holding company headquartered in London, England. It is considered the world's largest advertising company, as of 2019. WPP plc owns many companies, which includes advertising, public relations, media, and market research networks such as AKQA, BCW, Essence Global, Finsbury, Grey, GroupM, Hill+Knowlton Strategies, Kantar Group, Mindshare, Ogilvy, Wavemaker, Wunderman Thompson, and VMLY&R. It is one of the "Big Five" agency companies, alongside Dentsu, Publicis, Interpublic Group of Companies and Omnicom. WPP has a primary listing on the London Stock Exchange and is a constituent of the FTSE 100 Index. It has a secondary listing on the New York Stock Exchange.
The company was founded as Wire and Plastic Products plc to manufacture wire shopping baskets in 1971. In 1985 Martin Sorrell, searching for a listed company through which to build a worldwide marketing services company, bought a controlling stake.
During 1986 WPP became the parent company of Picquotware, a manufacturer of teapots and jugs, based in Northampton. In November 1987 a fire destroyed the Northampton factory and production was restarted at Burntwood in Staffordshire. On 25 November 2004 WPP closed the Burntwood factory and stopped manufacturing Picquotware: all assets were sold on 14 December 2004.
In the 1980s, WPP began its strategy of growth via acquisitions. In later years, WPP regularly acquired dozens of companies annually. In 1987 the company acquired J. Walter Thompson (including JWT, Hill & Knowlton and MRB Group) for $566m. The company listed on the NASDAQ in 1988 (and later switched its secondary listing to the NYSE). In 1989 it acquired Ogilvy Group for $864m.
WPP's acquisitions continued into the 1990s, when WPP bought firms in the healthcare advertising, digital-marketing, online shopping, digital media, data management, retail and corporate consultancy, and sports-marketing industries. This included the 1999 acquisition of Lambie-Nairn. In 1998, WPP formed an alliance with Asatsu-DK Inc. of Japan.
In May 2000, WPP agreed to acquire the United States-based Young & Rubicam Group for $5.7 billion, in what was at the time the largest ever takeover in the advertising sector. The takeover made WPP the largest advertising company in the world measured by billings and revenue, overtaking Omnicom Group and Interpublic.
In the 2000s, WPP Digital was created to develop the group's digital capabilities. In October 2008, WPP acquired market research firm Taylor Nelson Sofres for £1.6 billion. During 2009 WPP reduced its workforce by around 14,000 employees, or 12.3% of its then total staff numbers, in response to the onset of the 2008–2012 global recession.
Many of WPP's constituent agencies use Microsoft Windows, and the organisation was among those hit by the 2017 cyberattacks on Ukraine, with some staff's computer access limited to webmail only as much as ten days later.
WPP merged Burson-Marsteller with Cohn & Wolfe to become BCW (Burson Cohn & Wolfe) in February 2018.
In April 2018, Martin Sorrell retired after 33 years, following allegations of personal misconduct and misuse of company assets. Sorrell has denied the allegations. Chairman Roberto Quarta was temporarily named executive chairman. In September 2018, Mark Read, who was global CEO of Wunderman, was named CEO.
In the late 2010s, the advertising industry faced significant challenges. Changes in the industry landscape included financial pressure on global clients, in particular fast-moving consumer goods clients, companies taking work in-house, ability to directly advertise on tech platforms, and competition with consultancies. While WPP had previously outperformed other companies in the industry, its growth slowed starting in 2017 and its market value dropped in 2018. Critics said WPP needed to become "nimbler" and "leaner". At the time, many WPP agencies operated mostly independently and competed for accounts. In late 2018, Read said the company had grown "unwieldy with too much duplication". He instituted a plan to reposition WPP as a "creative transformation company" and make its offer simpler. Read emphasized the importance of technology and also merged several WPP agencies: J. Walter Thompson merged with Wunderman to create Wunderman Thompson and Y&R merged with VML to create VMLY&R. Within Read's first year as CEO, he trimmed WPP by selling more than 30 subsidiaries, including a majority stake in Kantar. By selling a majority stake of Kantar to Bain Capital, WPP is believed to have generated $3.1 billion to help pay down debt. Read also sold the original Wire and Plastic Products company that Sorrell had purchased to create his business empire.
The sale of 60% of Kantar was completed in December 2019. $1.9bn was used to reduce WPP’s debt, and $1.2bn was returned to shareholders.
WPP is a large holding company involved in communications, advertising, public relations, and other businesses. It is considered the world's biggest advertising agency group. WPP focuses on communications, experience, commerce, and technology. Headquartered in London, England, WPP has approximately 130,000 employees throughout its portfolio of businesses across more than 100 countries, as of 2018.
WPP's notable advertising agency company holdings include Grey, Ogilvy, VMLY&R, and Wunderman Thompson. WPP's digital company holdings include AKQA. WPP's public relations and public affairs company holdings include Hill+Knowlton Strategies, BCW (Burson Cohn & Wolfe), and Ogilvy. WPP's media investment management company holdings include GroupM, Mindshare, Wavemaker and Essence. WPP's research insight and consulting companies include Kantar. Hogarth Worldwide is a WPP-owned production company. WPP-owned brand consultancies include Superunion (a combination of Brand Union, Lambie-Nairn, and three other brand consulting businesses) and Landor.
With a number of shareholder revolts over executive pay having already happened at other public companies' AGMs earlier in the year, the media coverage of Martin Sorrell's intended £12.93m compensation package drew increasing public attention in 2012. The result was a 59.52% shareholder vote to reject the resolution.
It has been reported that WPP goes to great lengths to lower its own corporate tax bill. The Guardian reported that between 2003 and 2009 the company paid £27m in UK corporation tax, compared to what the newspaper "might expect" based on reports of the firm making 15% of its profit in the UK, of around £126m.
Television Audience Measurement
In 2012 the Indian broadcasting NDTV filed a lawsuit against Television Audience Measurement (TAM), a joint venture of the former competitors Nielsen and Kantar Media Research which for years has provided the only TV audience measurement system in India. The lawsuit alleged that viewership data were manipulated in favor of broadcasters willing to provide bribes. WPP Plc was listed among the defendants as the holding group of Kantar and IMRB.
The lawsuit was dismissed in its entirety on 4 March 2013.
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