In Essays, Innovation

With Sir Martin Sorrell gone from the integrated marketing services company he assembled and led for over 30 years, there’s talk that it’ll be broken up in the face of competition from digital tech and management consultants.

I’m ready to lead a unified WPP out of this crisis. Here’s my three-point plan:

First, put data at the center of everything

If data are at the heart of marketing’s future, WPP is in the best position to assemble and use it, since its far-flung divisions collect information on just about every aspect of consumers’ lives, not just what they do online (roadside billboards, events, PR, and even, gasp, print).

So it could build multi-dimensional models for predicting behavior that would put the likes of Google and Facebook to shame or, better put, enable its clients to put those platforms to better use. It could also be more generous with insights that its digital competitors, and give clients more visibility and control over the data.

As for those management consultancies, they wouldn’t know a customer unless they tripped over it on an .xls spreadsheet, so again, WPP could provide far deeper insights.

300 offices in 113 countries? WPP has the resources for an augmented reality overlay to the marketplace that no competitor could duplicate.

I’d immediately quash rumored spin off plans for its market research company (Kantar), and I’d get key leaders into a room (ok, a virtual one) and come up with a short-term plan to unleash a boatload of added value for existing clients. There’d be no immediate need for complex and costly tech answers; let’s get it down on a piece of paper with a pencil if necessary, and if a team or brand can’t or won’t contribute, I’ll bypass them. I might even want to involve clients in building this new model.

Second, I’d scratch talk of a “group,” and replace it with a “network.”

The push/pull pressure that WPP faces — clients pushing strategic work to management consultancies, and pulling more development work in-house — isn’t insurmountable, if only it
could reimagine its collection of companies as a network that provides clients with better resources, and greater accountability, that patching something together from scratch.

The network, or platform, should possess every conceivable resource a client might need, so that its plainly faster than any alternatives, too. So I’d get those key leaders to put our top 20 clients up on a wall, and demand that we cut by half or more the time-to-market for our insights, creative, execution, and reporting.

Before we left the room, I’d have a conversation about pricing. It’s untenable that WPP is getting beat on value by management consultancies that charge zillions for delivering 3-ring binders and complicated software installations. We’d reimagine how and what we charge, with the goal of doing more than our competitors, and charging less for it. It needs to be that simple.

Economies of scale should be worth something.

Third, I’d unleash WPP’s content.

The idea that we’ve abdicated leadership of the conversation on marketing and communications to technology firms is downright insulting. We employ 200,000 people around the world, and we aren’t the go-to voices for the most important topics facing our clients and industry?

I’d immediately rip up whatever policies we have in place to stifle Tweeting, blogging, and other forms of sharing content by individual employees, and then incentivize content creation against a list of top topics.

I’d encourage WPP’s people to actively challenge public comments that suggest consumers are nothing more than buying machines, or that marketing creative can be distilled to a series of numbers in an algorithm…or that the time people spend using digital media are more important than the greater number of hours they spend simply living.

We’re in a fight for the hearts and minds of our clients, so it’s no time for our company (and the ad industry in general) to be soft spoken, or appear in various stages of retreat. WPP can and should own the thoughts that qualify as thought leadership.

WPP has been getting disrupted for a while now, and Sir Sorrell’s departure only reveals in greater detail the mess it faces. With him gone, it needs to change…finally, significantly, brutally, and fast. If it does, it has a very good chance of succeeding.

I’m just the guy to lead that charge. I’m available immediately.

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