Global WPP CMO at Mumbrella360: ‘Creativity helps exponential growth – more than data optimisation’

WPP global chief marketing and growth officer Laurent Ezekiel’s presentation at Mumbrella360 Asia in Singapore – ‘Deconstructing the Future of the Marketing Industry – A WPP Perspective’ – was followed by a lively question and answer session.

Topics that came up for discussion included everything from the threat of consultancies, the new M&A targets and, of course, how WPP is reacting to the barbs from its former CEO.

The consultancy model seems to be about automating media as much as possible, buying great creative agencies and then giving their product away for free, while charging a hefty rate for consulting fees. Is that model something you are worried about competing with? Or is it completely alien to what WPP does?

“It’s not completely alien. The ability to consult across the industry is important and we do a lot of that. But how we do it looks a bit different – more tangible. 

“For instance, the work we do around customer experience inevitably involves research – qualitative and quantitative – and consultancy. But on the other end, we also produce customer experience journeys. 

“We do compete occasionally. (But) does it keep me up at night? I feel good about what we are doing and confident in how we are thinking about the future.”

How should marketing companies restructure so that they can work better with the new agency model?

“On a lot the briefs we get today, the first sentence is ‘help us with the model’. It’s not just to develop a campaign. 

“However, it’s not about developing a model on agency side and bringing that to clients or brands. It’s the opposite of that. Because there’s no point in doing that unless it is in collaboration with clients. As we develop a new model, it has implications on how our clients are organised, and those conversations need to happen upfront. 

“Some skills will remain on the brand side, others on the agency side, and there will be skills that spend more time on one location or the other. 

“It is tough out there for everyone – we are all going through disruption and transformation. It’s not just the agencies. We have to evolve together.”

If you are a young person looking to enter the business, what skills are you going to need?

The new skill set chart

“As you can see from the chart I shared, there is a lot of demand across new skillsets and lots of points of entry. It is difficult to pin down a particular skill, but with all the talk of disruption and different talent, creativity and creative ideas remain the most important thing. 

“They have the power to exponentially help clients grow more than any optimisation of data that you can put forward. As long as we don’t lose sight of that, and all the people coming in realise this is a creative industry, we will be in a very good position.

“It may sound like a stage statement, but I truly think that no industry has the power to affect growth more than this one. I’m very optimistic – more so than ever – about the future as long as we are able to organise these capabilities for our clients, we will be in a fantastic position overall.”

Something that fascinates me and is a regular occurrence is your former CEO has these periodic pop-ups in the press where he talks about WPP. In the most recent one, he was saying it has lost its reason to exist. He obviously has his own agenda, but how is it viewed within the network when he is throwing these barbs out? 

“I have just made a presentation about the about the future and I’ve also said that this industry has an exponential ability to change for clients. Next year will very much be the year of value that our industry brings to its clients. 

“To answer the question, WPP has never been more relevant in helping clients navigate. We are just going to focus on the future and not on the past.” 

So, you use that to motivate change and transformation?

“Since you bring it back to WPP, we have a new strategy. It is year one of a three year strategy: a simplified proposition. We are obsessed with creative transformation as our mission, we have organised the company in a simple way.

“As we take that story to our clients, the feedback has been very positive. I take that as the best evidence. It’s not what we tell ourselves within the walls of our agencies, but what we hear from clients on the new strategy that Mark and the management team have launched in December last year.

“The financials have been encouraging and there is a lot of optimism and a real sense of collaboration that I am very enthused by.” 

You have shown very clearly that the age old titles have exponentially grown and what used to take three people now could need 10 people specialised in various sectors to do the same job. This is obviously driving efficiency and bringing value to the client. But such shifts are not cheap and client budgets either remain the same or go down. How do you find the balance?    

“That’s an excellent question. It is not easy to prove value. Or to get paid for the value that takes three people to create instead of one. Some things are more automated, and others take more people. But you sort of get paid the same way for both.

“It is evolving. You all have worked on risk reward or co-investment models. Those are growing and the more of those that we put on the table and get signed off, the better it will be.

“It comes back to coming up with an idea so good that it helps the client grow. Then we should be remunerated exponentially. But it is not an easy thing to do and a big challenge as we move forward.”

What will the future of M&A look like?

“The big deals done in the last year tend to be around the data space – in some cases first party data. The M&A trend going forward will be pretty diverse. It will look a little like the skill set chart.

“There will be a focus on data and analytics that is perhaps more specialised and localised. It is hard to put forward the same data proposition in every market of the world. 

“On the content side of the spectrum, there may be deals with film studios and so on and so forth.” 

What about the country of the future? Which market where you are not currently dominant are you most excited about?

“We are dominant everywhere. I had spent time in the region through my career, but I’m relatively new to WPP. Honestly, I was blown away by what we are doing with commerce in China. 

“I spent the day with (WPP Indonesia and Vietnam chairperson) Ranjana Singh and the work she is doing there is unbelievable. Some of the innovation work we are doing further afield in India is fascinating.

“I am not trying to duck the question, but it is difficult to pinpoint to one. Those are some of the ones where I have had direct experience. I would think about it in terms of capability: commerce in the region is fascinating. I took ideas back to clients in the United States – some are relevant and some not.”


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