Adam Smith, Group M's media forecasting guru, dies aged 58

Expert used intellect and wit to explain global trends for WPP.

Smith: spent 14 years at Group M
Smith: spent 14 years at Group M

Adam Smith, the futures director at Group M, has died at the age of 58.

Smith spent 14 years at Group M, the media buying arm of WPP. He launched its global forecasting practice in 2006 and built its reputation for market-leading research at a time when the internet was transforming consumption habits and media agencies were changing from local to global operations.

He was responsible for This Year Next Year, a regular report that analyses media spend market by market and medium by medium, and offered "exhaustive, accurate and often entertaining insight into the health and direction of the sector", as Rob Norman, a former Group M chief digital officer, recalled.

Smith’s insights were highly prized by clients and investors, and he became a guru of media forecasting who regularly presented to shareholders at WPP’s financial results about ad expenditure and how it might give clues to future economic growth.

He died on 27 December after suffering from cancer.

Senior industry figures praised Smith for his contribution to Group M, the world’s biggest advertising buyer, and the broader field of media research. Smith previously spent a decade and a half at rival Zenith.

Mark Read, WPP's chief executive, said: "Adam brought a fearsome intellect to the business of advertising. His opinions and analysis were sought by clients, the industry and the financial community. 

"He often presented at WPP’s quarterly results meetings, where analysts would crowd around him afterwards, hoping for more nuggets on the global trends shaping our business.

"His wit and insight made him a regular winner of WPP’s annual Atticus Awards, which recognise original thinking in marketing. Adam was the very definition of an original thinker, so it’s fitting that the Atticus Grand Prix will now be named after him. 

"Above all, Adam was a generous, thoughtful and much-loved colleague and he will be sorely missed by everyone who had the good fortune to work with him."

Kelly Clark, former global chief executive of Group M, said in a message to staff: "Adam has been a source of inspiration, insight, friendship and humour since he joined Group M as our futures director.

"He established our forecasting and publishing operations, building it from scratch with many of you. He always asked us challenging questions and the answers illuminated the data and created interesting stories.

"He made Group M and WPP the industry leader in understanding media markets and in defining the important contribution of marketing to the business world and the broader global economy. He represented us very well on many important stages."

Smith had a broad range of interests beyond advertising. He was a camera-wielding Beatles fan who co-authored a book, The Beatles’ London: The Ultimate Guide to 467 Beatles Sites in and around London, and an expert on the work of pop art painter Pauline Boty.

He also served as a local councillor for the Conservative Party in Maidenhead, a town about 25 miles west of London, and liked restoring vintage cars.

Smith studied law at the University of Oxford and began his career at Harlow & Jones, an international steel broker. He would later joke that his job was a "scrap metal dealer".

He went on to do an MBA at Kingston University.

He joined Zenith in 1989, where he worked briefly as a TV buyer and then found his calling as the agency’s head of publications.

Smith was a "natural collector of ephemera", as one friend put it, and it was at Zenith that he began his collection of "things people say" that went on to fill many notebooks over the years.

One of Smith’s most-repeated phrases, coined by Derek Southon, his then boss at Zenith, was: "Remember people don’t do what you expect. They do what you inspect."

Norman said: "Adam Smith was not easy to ‘summarise’ but erudite, precise, eclectic, illuminating and original are all accurate. His colleagues would agree that he made them better and made them laugh."

Smith met his wife, Maria, when they worked together at Zenith and they went on to have two children: Sam, 14, and Poppy, 12.

At Smith’s request, donations are being made to Thames Hospice.

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