Speaking with analysts Friday WPP CEO Mark Read said that an M&A deal for Kantar would be announced by the end of the second quarter. Last year the holding company decided to put a majority stake in the research arm up for sale.
Read spoke to analysts in London Friday after WPP released its full-year 2018 financial results. He said that the firm concluded that the best way to realize Kantar’s full potential, given all of the company’s priorities was to bring on a financial and strategic partner to take control.
Read said the firm has made a lot progress already in executing the strategic turnaround plan that was unveiled in December. Last year it sold off 30 companies generating more than $1.1 billion in fees. It’s already sold five more companies this year with more to come.
Other streamlining moves include the closure of 80 offices, 57 of which have now been shuttered. Some 2,600-plus staffers have been laid off out of a planned 3,500 by the end of this year.
And the firm has consolidated offices and real estate holdings in 70 markets.
And while some big client losses last year (like the Ford creative business) will lead to a first half this year that will be weaker than the second half, Read pointed to some recent wins like Volkswagen in North America, and Distell and Newell globally.
The strategy to merge agencies VML and Young & Rubicam (into VMLY&R) is paying off Read asserted, noting that the new entity generated $25 million in new business revenue in its first 90 days.
“WPP is a creative transformation company,” he said, suggesting that creativity will be its differentiating factor and that technology will be its future growth driver.
A key priority: becoming stronger in commerce in what Read called “the age of Amazon.” The company has a 200-strong team in Seattle known as the Amazon Center that works closely with the commerce giant. It also has a growing team working with China’s Ali Baba.
Read also noted that management incentive bonuses are being reshaped to focus more heavily on driving revenue results and less on operating profit.
Asked to comment on subsidiary Triad Retail Media’s recent loss of its Walmart business, Read said it was fair to question whether Triad, an ecommerce media sales company “is a company we should or should not have acquired.” It sounds like he just put the firm up for sale, although he didn’t specifically say that. WPP bought the firm in 2016.