WPP CMO Laurent Ezekiel on the power of creativity and a simple strategy

Approximately a year ago, WPP was making headlines globally for the drastic steps it was taking in merging some of its iconic brands. In the midst of all of the mind-blowing changes, came in Laurent Ezekiel (pictured) who was named chief marketing and growth officer – a first of its kind of a role for the network.

With 16 years under his belt at Publicis, Ezekiel tells Marketing that while the move was certainly daunting, he couldn’t think of a better timing to join the network given the power he then had to refresh the narrative.  “For me the timing was even more attractive because you come in and work with a team to make a real difference. My first day was five  months after the new strategy was launched and everything was fresh. So what better time,” he said. He added that “for sure the leap, or jump, was daunting” because every aspect of communication was being rebooted.

But six months on, he says the conversations have really now changed internally, given the straight forward and simple vision put in place to permeate through the agency.  Moreover, in its Q3 financials, the group said it showed "substantial progress" as pushed into growth mode posting a 0.5% increase in organic revenue. This ended its four consecutive quarters of decline. In a statement, CEO, Mark Read said that while WPP’s performance in the third quarter was an important step in the strategy outlined in December 2018, to return the company to sustainable growth, there will be more twists and turns along the way.

Ezekiel meanwhile told Marketing that currently, the strategy put in place was straight forward and simple and is mostly around creative transformation in communications and media, end to end experience, technology and commerce. Having a simple strategy, he explained, "creates a purpose around building better future around clients and people and communities and it permeates through the company."

He added that currently the company has come together in a more integrated fashion to “make the agency brands a little stronger than before.”

Read more from his interview below:

Marketing: How have you been pushing integration and collaboration in this “new WPP”?

Ezekiel: Having a stronger WPP can help in pushing collaboration [with the agencies] because if the parent brand is collaborative, simple and with a clear vision, then agencies will gravitate around it. The proof is in the pudding – the more the teams across WPP win together and grow together and produce better work together, it will push the collaboration. It’s about creating stronger brands – the agency brands need to be stronger and offer more services and more relevant. You will see a more united WPP and agencies in terms of culture.

Marketing: What does success looks like?

Ezekiel: When the agency brands are thriving. Fewer, stronger brands – it is an integrated offer that clients are looking for across the different services from tech, communications and data and across all services. Fewer better brands should mean they can service and work with clients more broadly. Scale is all well and good but there's no point talking about it unless you can bring your talent and people to where its needed for clients.

Marketing: How have the six months been for you personally?

Ezekiel: It has been excellent. I love the vision on creative transformation and putting creativity back on the agenda at WPP – that was a huge attraction. I have known Mark Read for a while and I think it is a great team and felt like a really good time to move as it was the first page for a new chapter at WPP and it felt like a really neat time to come over and help the new time. It has been brilliant, and creativity needs to be back on our agenda and I feel it really is everywhere.

Marketing: What kind of questions are clients now asking you? 

Ezekiel: We are getting a lot more questions from clients on how they should organise themselves and what the model should look like. The good thing about that is that we have a lot of depth in the future agency model area.So be it P&G or Ford or Bose, there’s a range of different agency models we can advice clients on.

Increasingly, tech is involved in the conversation and how we respond to briefs all the time. During an AKQA meeting internally, we saw six pieces of work and it made you aware how the world had changed. None of them were traditional medium oriented [answers] and all of them had tech at the heart of it. Technology is something clients come to us to make sense of and we have great capabilities in that  area.

Marketing: As we head into 2020, tell us what is advertising going to look like in the future?

Ezekiel: Creativity will prevail. It is always going to be important. This is what makes me excited about creative transformation – because I really believe in it. I believe in the power of ideas to really generate growth – not just for ideas sake. The power to create new product and ideas will always be very important. However I think that with the advent of tech product, services and applications are going to be increasingly important. Your end-to-end project will look very different with more products and experience design and customer journey work. It will still involve tech and physical both.