Jo Bowman

The research and marketing giant WPP now makes 50 per cent of its money from markets and tools that didn’t exist in the year 2000. CEO Sir Martin Sorrell explains the rise of data – and why it doesn’t quite have all the answers.

The international marketing network WPP used to have a large market research division. “We don’t call it research anymore,” says its CEO, Sir Martin Sorrell. “We started off with market research. We thought that sounded pretty boring, so then we moved to consumer insight, and then in a fit we decided to call it Data Investment Management.” The change, despite the rather unfortunate acronym, indicates something significant about the way the business – indeed, the entire marketing communications industry – is evolving.

“Ever since we started to call it data investment management it’s suddenly started to grow more rapidly, Sorrell says.“ I don’t know whether there’s any causality there at all but certainly it’s made the segment of our business more sexy. There’s a really important point here, though, not just a frivolous one. Our revenues last year were about US$18 billion, of which close to $5 billion – in fact we will cross $5 billion this year – comes from what we call market research, consumer insight and data investment management. There’s another $4 billion out of the $18 billion, making a total of eight or nine out of 18 – so half our business – which is in media planning and buying.” Links between the media and the data investment arms of the business are being strengthened, and that integration is being pushed both to clients and to WPP’s employees, who currently number about 178,000 people worldwide, 36,000 of them in data investment management roles.

Data-oriented research is thriving
In the new world order of post-Lehmann, post-crash economics, Sorrell says, it’s the data-oriented part of the research business that has thrived, especially in fast-growing markets. Custom research now accounts for less than half of WPP’s “research” business, and 60 per cent is syndicated or part-syndicated research. The custom business, most of which is in mature markets, has suffered, and those companies that have syndicated research at their heart, and which have been focused on the growth markets – Millward Brown, Kantar World Panel, Kantar Media and Kantar Retail and Health – have flourished.

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