CEO Kelly Clark: GroupM Has ‘Moved On’ From Sorrell Exit

When WPP Group-owned GroupM opens its doors at the brand new 3 World Trade Center building in downtown Manhattan next month, it’ll be more than just a symbolic new beginning.

The face of GroupM is changing. In addition to the shocking exit of WPP CEO Martin Sorrell in April, two longtime GroupM executives, Chairman Irwin Gotlieb and Chief Digital Officer Rob Norman, have retired within the past year.

GroupM’s services are transforming, too, as media planning and buying becomes commoditized and clients demand programmatic and data expertise.

“It’s a time of incredible change in the business for our clients, our agencies and our people,” GroupM CEO Kelly Clark told AdExchanger.

That undercurrent of change has led GroupM to 3 World Trade, where it will bring together 4,000 employees spread across six New York City offices to “collaborate, be creative and help our clients solve problems,” Clark said.

Clark spoke with AdExchanger at the new building about life after Sorrell.

AdExchanger: How disruptive has Sorrell’s exit been to GroupM? 

KELLY CLARK: It hasn’t touched the way we run the business or work with clients. Many of our people knew Martin, but he’s no longer in the company. We’ve moved on. The business is running, we’re partnering with clients, we’re pitching. We’re moving ahead.

How have clients responded? 

As long as their teams are motivated, secure and doing great work, clients are absolutely fine. They know we’re getting on with running the business and helping them win in a competitive marketplace.

In a recent interview, WPP Chairman Roberto Quarta backtracked on Sorrell’s horizontality strategy. How will that impact teams you’ve already put in place for clients?

We will continue to focus on those integrated solutions when it’s right for clients.

Clients want seamless, simple solutions. They want us to integrate our teams and capabilities when that’s right for their business, and they want us to make that easy for them. It matters less what we call that and how we behave and solve problems.

How do you differentiate the GroupM agencies? 

Our agencies do many of the same things for similar clients. Each differentiates through their cultures, tools and types of clients they work with. Some have greater expertise in different parts of the media ecosystem or client categories.

But they do many of the same things for similar clients and that’s always going to be the case. That allows us to share best practices across agencies and client categories, and that’s good for all of the clients that work with GroupM.

Do you expect more consolidation within GroupM? 

We have no further plans for consolidating. We have three very strong global agencies in Mindshare, MediaCom and Wavemaker.

We’ve made big investments in Essence to add capabilities in all media channels and establish them in more markets. But the strategy is not to replicate what our other three networks do in over 100 markets. It’s to be much more focused in fewer markets for clients are very much driven by data in how they make marketing decisions.

Is that the ultimate goal for all of your agencies? 

All of them have to have that capability as clients use more granular information to make smarter marketing decisions. Essence started with that capability at its heart. But all of our clients, and therefore each of our agencies, must have strong data analytics capabilities at the core of what they do.

What’s their progress?

It’s a journey. We stand up competitively against any global agency, but we’ve got lots more to do. Each of our agencies has an investment and development plan to bring in new people and skills and partner with new data providers, technology companies and media owners.

How do you attract talent, when the competitive set is expanding? 

It’s tough. We’re competing with Google, Facebook, consulting companies and media companies. We have to offer inspiring workplaces and career development opportunities.

Part of moving to a new space is to offer an inspiring, modern and creative work environment. We offer opportunities for people to be mobile around our company, whether that means moving to a different part of GroupM or a different country. All of those things makes us a pretty attractive place to work.

Have consulting firms become more competitive with GroupM, with Accenture Interactive launching a programmatic unit?

We didn’t find that entirely surprising. We do think it’s inappropriate for Accenture to both buy media and then audit the performance of other agencies who do the same thing. That is a clear conflict of interest.

But we welcome competition. It’s good for our agencies, our clients and the marketplace because it creates innovation and drives business. We’re not afraid of competition from any direction.

How big of an issue for GroupM is CPGs pulling back spend this year? 

Some consumer goods companies are very challenged. Some have increased their marketing investments. But it remains a challenging environment. There’s been enormous competition in local markets. They’re seeing businesses come in with different models, like direct-to-consumer.

But they remain incredibly important clients for us. We have a large base of consumer goods advertisers and we think that will remain the case. We’ve got to help them innovate and competitive in a very challenging market. That’s our job.

When you don’t win in pitches, why? And when you do win, why?

It’s about whether the team delivers a compelling solution that’s grounded in deep insights about consumers and markets and delivered through a passionate group of people that are easy to work with. The structure is simple, easy to manage and understand. Price comes into the equation, but it’s not the only factor by any stretch.

How’s Wavemaker performing in the market? 

It’s good. There have been some challenges. It’s painful to lose important customers like Marriott and Campbell’s.

At the same time, Dannon and Adobe are two high profile wins from Wavemaker. They’ve turned the corner on the integration. That was enormously complex, over 7,000 people globally coming together into a new team. There was always going to be some disruption. We think we’ve minimized that and we’re moving forward. I think you’ll hear some really positive news soon from Wavemaker.

This interview has been condensed.

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