Data and tech should service the idea, not the other way around
Embracing the future is very much on Mark Read’s mind. Not only is WPP’s chief operating officer moderating a conference later this week on how the industry can “collaborate to create a successful future for us all”, but he is also — as one of the media giant’s de facto global leaders — reflecting on how best WPP can move forward into its own, post-Sorrell future.
In the wake of Sir Martin Sorrell’s abrupt departure from WPP in April, Read, global chief executive of Wunderman, and Andrew Scott, chief operating officer of WPP Europe, have been jointly minding the shop, while the board decides on a new chief executive. Read has made it clear to the board that he would be “very interested” in taking on the role. “WPP is an amazing company with 130,000 very talented people, and it would be great to have that opportunity,” he said.
In the meantime, Read admitted this is a “transition phase” for WPP. Since taking the reins, he has talked extensively to clients, who now fall under his remit under the split of responsibilities with Scott: “What’s become clear with every client I’ve spoken to over the last six or seven weeks is that they want simpler access to the talent we have within WPP, which means we have to work more closely and be a more agile organisation. So that’s what we’re focused on.”
For all the challenge ahead, Read is “very optimistic” about WPP’s future: “But changes are needed and there’s work we need to do”. Important is to become more client-centric and to bring the focus firmly back on creativity and innovation. “Yes, we need to put data and technology at the heart of what we do but, as we’ll see this week, those should be in service to the idea and not the other way around. So in a way Cannes sums up a lot of what we’re trying to focus on at WPP, which is what makes the event so relevant.”
As for the future, Read’s advice is to stop being scared of data, digital and disruption and to start thinking about how the challenges they represent can be solved collaboratively, “because I don’t think that any one part of the industry can solve them on their own”. He added: “We have to address consumer and client concerns around privacy and content and viewability and standards. And we also need a healthy ecosystem, so that agencies can hire the best talent and media companies can invest in the best content. Some things clearly need to change, but some things need to stay the same.”