WPP returns to sales growth as Read pledges to tackle 'underperforming operations'

WPP has posted its first sales growth in five quarters in its first earnings report under new chief executive Mark Read, who pledged to spend more to fuel growth at the company.

Mark Read: took the helm as WPP CEO yesterday
Mark Read: took the helm as WPP CEO yesterday

The owner of Group M and Ogilvy reported a 0.7% increase in like-for-like revenues less pass-through costs, a measure previously known as net sales during the reign of Read’s predecessor Sir Martin Sorrell.

It was better than the four quarters when revenues less pass-through costs fell by 0.1% in the first quarter of 2018, 1.3% in Q4 2017, 1.1% in Q3 2017 and 1.7% in Q2 2017. 

In a solid quarter of 2018, WPP also reported like-for-like revenue was up 2.4%.

However, shares dropped 7% in trading this morning after the company opted to hold the share dividend flat.

The company’s profit margin also lowered, which Read said was due to increased investment as well as some areas of the business underperforming, such as in the US.

North America was again the weakest performing region for WPP, with a 0.3% fall in like-for-like revenue to £1.42bn. The UK was up 1% to £549m, while continental Europe grew much faster: up 4.6% to £783m. Asia and Latin America were up 4.5% to £1.2bn.

The world’s biggest advertiser, the US consumer goods giant Procter & Gamble, has slashed spend on advertising agencies and production fees in the last couple of years, as has its rival Unilever. Meanwhile, advertisers have shifted budgets towards online advertising on Google and Facebook.

However, Read pointed to progress made in the last few months since Sorrell’s departure and said WPP performed strongly in terms of winning and retaining business.

"We have focused our efforts on providing more effectively integrated solutions to clients and, in competitive pitches, we have won or grown business with clients including Adidas, Hilton, Mars, Mondelez, Shell and T-Mobile," Read said.

He added: "As chief executive, my focus will be on invigorating our company and returning the business to stronger, sustainable growth. Our review of strategy is underway, addressing our structure, our underperforming operations, particularly in the US, and how we position the company for the future."

Read was appointed as WPP chief executive yesterday following a five-month search to replace Sorrell, who quit in April amid an investigation into claims of personal misconduct. Sorrell has denied wrongdoing.

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