|Type||Public limited company|
FTSE 100 Component
(Wire and Plastic Products plc)
(Sorrell acquisition and entry into advertising)
|Headquarters||London, England, UK|
|Revenue||£12,801.1 million (2021)|
|£1,252.8 million (2021)|
|£720.7 million (2021)|
Number of employees
WPP plc is a British multinational communications, advertising, public relations, technology, and commerce holding company headquartered in London, England. It was 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, CMI Media Group, Essence Global, Finsbury, Grey, Hill+Knowlton Strategies, Mindshare, Ogilvy, Wavemaker, Wunderman Thompson, and VMLY&R. It is one of the "Big Four" agency companies, alongside 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.
The company was founded as Wire and Plastic Products plc to manufacture wire shopping baskets in 1971. In 1985 Martin Sorrell and Preston Rabl, 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, so 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 January 1987, the company acquired Scott Stern Associates, at the time Scotland's largest design and advertising company. In the same year (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.
In November 2016, WPP announced it will be acquiring PEP, LLC, a project management and procurement company that oversees shopper marketing promotions for clients, in the US.
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.
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.
In July 2022, WPP acquired Corebiz, a Latin American ecommerce agency, for an undisclosed amount.
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's shopper marketing promotions company is PEP, LLC (formerly Promotion Execution Partners). WPP-owned brand consultancies include Superunion (a combination of Brand Union, Lambie-Nairn, and three other brand consulting businesses) and Landor.
In 2005 advertising agency Cohn & Wolfe (later merged into WPP) was contracted by Reckitt to operate a blog as the fictional character Barry Scott, advertising mascot for Reckitt's cleaning fluid Cillit Bang, as a viral marketing platform. In October of that year blogger Tom Coates wrote an emotional post to his own blog about his long-estranged father. Among the expressions of condolences and sympathy in the post's comment section was one from a user identifying themselves as Barry Scott, with a link back to the Cohn & Wolfe's in-character blog as Barry Scott. Offended by the apparent use of his blog comments on such a personal post as a spam advertising venue, Coates traced the comment's originating IP address through addresses owned by Young & Rubicam and back to Reckitt. Reckitt initially denied responsibility for the message, but wrote Coates an apology acknowledging the message's inappropriateness, and Cohn & Wolfe issued a statement of remorse for their misuse of the "experimental" blog which they then ceased operating.
The controversy and its fallout led to further discussions among the blogger community as well as the advertising industry on the ethical issues surrounding blogs being "operated" by fictional characters for the purposes of advertising without being clearly labeled as such, and the extent to which those blogs should be allowed to participate in the greater blogosphere.
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.
Work for fossil fuel companies
WPP handles the accounts of many major oil companies. Asked by Reuters to disclose their client list, WPP refused to do so. WPP has defended its work for fossil fuel companies. Lawsuits have alleged that four of WPP's advertisement campaigns for fossil fuel companies have been misleading or entailed greenwashing.
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