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Elephants Can Dance

Amidst the gloom, WPP’s India story was a standout. At 12 per cent, the country was the fastest growing in the WPP stable.

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What makes WPP India tick? 

A perspective

In August this year, WPP unveiled its half-year results, the first under the new CEO, Mark Read. Growth was in negative territory, Sir Martin Sorrell’s exit last year had left the company scrambling for answers. In the two-year period between March 2017 and March 2019, company stock had fallen 60 per cent, as it has lost work from its marquee clients such as Ford, American Express and the likes. 

Amidst the gloom, WPP’s India story was a standout. At 12 per cent, the country was the fastest growing in the WPP stable. 

Commendable numbers have given the growth slowdown in India.  

Cut to Oct 2019, WPP growth is back in black. Read’s plan to refocus and restructure WPP unveiled late last year finally seems to be paying dividends. His decisions to merge Wunderman Thomson and VMLY&R, to hive off Kantar seems to have proved right. Once again India stood out, delivering 15 per cent growth.

WPP’s India play is built on three pillars leadership, leadership and leadership.  

Stability and leadership of key companies such as Ogilvy and GroupM have delivered domain leadership. In a tough domestic market, Ogilvy India managed growth in both the last two years, unlike most of its peers. Its work across an array of clients like Unilever (it got them a Cannes Glass Lions shortlist for Hamam Waterproof sarees), Mondelez, ITC won many accolades. 

Piyush Pandey and his key lieutenants such as  Sonal Dabral have built Ogilvy from scratch. Piyush’s contribution has also been suitably recognised as Global Chief Creative Officer of the company, a position never before held by an Indian. 

GroupM, on the other hand, is the proverbial 800-pound gorilla. With ownership of almost 50 per cent share of the Indian media buying market, a feat unmatched anywhere else in the world, it lords over the Indian media landscape.  

The key aspect here again is leadership.  

C. V. L. Srinivas aka Srini, who ran GroupM for half a decade till last year, made it into a top-notch war machine. By making him the WPP Country Head, only one of the couple of dozen or so countries where this position exists, WPP has recognised Srini’s enormous contribution and talent. 

Srini’s role now encompasses the entire network of companies from creative, to media buying to digital, research and PR. His one-point agenda is to make the group future-ready, by bringing data and tech science into everything they do and also synergy amongst group companies. 

And then there is Prasanth Kumar aka PK, CEO, GroupM India. A workaholic, it is not uncommon for him to respond to emails at 3 a. m.  For PK, collaboration is a priority. He runs the most profitable part of the WPP’s India piece. PK has spent his last 15 years at GroupM, rising through the ranks to the top post. RECMA says GroupM India owns almost half the Indian media buying market. GroupM agencies have been on an account winning spree. 

In the last one year alone, clients like Mondelez, Vivo, Emami have shifted their accounts to the company. And then there is Disney that chose India as one of the very few countries to stay with GroupM while the rest of the markets changed their agency. And there is Unilever which shifted its entire digital buying account from OMD to GroupM’s Mindshare, India again being one of the handfuls of countries where GroupM was chosen over others. 

What makes WPP tick?

Investment in Digital and data.

Investment in content.

Investment in people/talent.

Size and muscle.

These are the four pillars WPP’s India business stands on and makes it future-ready.  

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.


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Nawal Ahuja

The author is Co-founder, exchange4media Group

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