One year in: WPP's Laurent Ezekiel on 'helping brands build a bridge to the future'

This week is the chief marketing and growth officer's one-year anniversary at the holding company.

One year in: WPP's Laurent Ezekiel on 'helping brands build a bridge to the future'

For his one-year anniversary as the WPP chief marketing and growth officer, Laurent Ezekiel joined Campaign US for its new Pillow Talk series to talk through what he’s learned and what’s to come for the holding company.

Ezekiel, who previously served as North American and international president at Publicis’ Digitas, said WPP had great momentum in 2019, attributing much of the success to its new strategy. Last year, the global network won the creative for Mondelez-Milka and media for Hasbro (Mediacom), and so far in 2020, WPP nabbed the global creative business for Intel and the media for Novo Nordisk (Wavemaker).  

"My main goals are continuing to modernize the WPP brand and helping brands build a bridge to the future," he said. "Creativity powered by technology is more important than ever now."

It’s been a year already. Time flies. What surprised you the most about WPP when you joined? 

Many things. So much breadth and depth within our skillset and a lot of extraordinarily smart and talented people. 

You probably have a lot that you're proud of having accomplished in the last 12 months... but can you tell me what sticks out the most? 

It’s exciting to be part of such a connected and determined team. This goes well beyond just WPP to include everyone within our network of companies as well. We are all laser-focused on helping our clients succeed. And because of these brilliant people, we’re starting to improve our new business track record, which I’m also extremely proud of. Last year we won the creative for Mondelez-Milka and Hasbro (Mediacom) and we got off to a good start this year with the global creative win of Intel and also Novo Nordisk (Wavemaker). Despite the pandemic, there is a pipeline of new business and fortunately we have less business at risk now than when I joined.

Before COVID-19, what was the biggest challenge facing WPP? How did you help overcome it? 

Modernizing the WPP brand is a challenge and one of my main goals. The WPP brand only re-launched at the end of 2018 so there was work to do to raise awareness of our purpose and correct common misconceptions, while at the same time, defining what it means to be a creative transformation company.   

Let's talk more about creativity. WPP has really been investing in creativity. What's the future there? 

Creativity is what sets us apart; it is our biggest differentiator. I think the work we’ve done for clients and NGOs to date during the pandemic reflects that investment strategy. I love the "#DistanceDance" work Grey did for P&G, which exceeded 10 billion views on TikTok, Deeplocal’s Scrubby, which times a person’s hand washing routine with your favorite track on Spotify, Ogilvy’s "Courage is Beautiful" for Dove and our work for the World Health Organization. They show that the power of ideas and imagination is what makes us special but, when combined with our technological expertise and capability, it becomes an almost unstoppable force.

This work is indicative of the speed and agility that will define the future of creativity in our industry. Now that we’ve demonstrated that we can create quality work in days and weeks, not months, clients will demand that in the future. 

And now for some coronavirus talk... what do you think will change permanently in the industry - not just within WPP - in the aftermath of the pandemic?  

When we come through this the world will be a very different place. In my world, I probably won’t fly as often. We will probably ideate more on new business virtually and even pitch more virtually. When it comes to our industry, consumer behavior will be changed in the short term for sure and some of that will hold in the long term. We’ll shop more online; we won’t think twice about video calls and remote working will be normal. We need to recognize this and help our clients communicate appropriately.  

How are you staying sane and helping staff stay sane amid social distancing? 

I make sure I get up and run. Sometimes just 5km sometimes 10km. Sometimes I take my kids, sometimes they try and keep up on a bike, or I try and keep up with them! I’ve loved spending more time with my family although I do miss the office and meetings with clients and our people. I speak to my team a lot. We’ve got regular check-ins and we’ve had a few virtual Friday get-togethers as well.

While it may be hard to say right now with COVID-19... can you try to give us a glimpse of some of your main goals for WPP for your next year at the company? 

We had great momentum in 2019 and made great progress on implementing our new strategy. My main goals are continuing to modernize the WPP brand and helping brands build a bridge to the future. Creativity powered by technology is more important than ever now. Our clients’ priorities have shifted with many brands exploring new areas to help accelerate their transformation. I want to support brands to not only survive this pandemic, but to adapt and grow and ready themselves for the future. If we are successful in doing these things it will go a long way to help with my job number one - growing WPP’s business.

You've done one-word answers for me in the past... ready for this one? Describe WPP's ethos in one word. 

Open.

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