Our six specific objectives

Here are six objectives which represent our key performance indicators (KPIs). For an assessment of how we performed against them in 2011, read on.

Continue to raise operating margins to the levels of the best-performing competition.

1First, to continue to raise operating margins to the levels of the best-performing competition. In 2011, we achieved a margin of 14.3%, equal to our historic pro-forma high. We continue to believe a margin of 18.3% is a tough, but realistic, objective given that our best-performing companies in each services sector have already demonstrated they can perform at a combined Group margin of 17%. It may well be that gross margin margin is a more accurate competitive comparison and we achieved 15.5% in 2011, significantly up on 2010 and at the top levels of industry performance.

  • Chart showing headline operating margins versus peers
Based on headline operating profit as defined in the Financial glossary, excluding share of results of associates, and sourced from relevant public filings, adjusted to a comparable basis to WPP.
Gross margin margin is defined as headline PBIT as a proportion of gross margin.

Continue to increase flexibility in the cost structure.

2Second, to continue to increase flexibility in the cost structure. In 2011, flexible staff costs (including incentives, freelance and consultants) returned close to historical highs of around 7% of revenues and continue to position the Group extremely well, if current market conditions change.

  • Chart showing Change in variable costs

Improve total share owner return and return on capital.

3Third, to improve total share owner return by maximising the return on investment on the Company’s substantial free cash flow of over £1.0 billion (or around $1.6 billion). 

There are broadly three alternative uses of funds: 

  • Capital expenditure, which usually approximates the depreciation cost. Pressure here has eased as technology pricing has fallen, although we have increased investment in our digital and technology-based service offering, in line with our strategic goals. We have also invested significantly more in real estate following lease renewals to secure greater efficiencies, although we have an opportunity to sell a freehold property for a significant capital gain.

  • Mergers and acquisitions, which have historically taken the lion’s share of free cash flow. Here we have raised the hurdle rate on capital employed so that our return on capital may be increased. There is a very significant pipeline of reasonably priced small and medium-sized potential acquisitions, with the exception of Brazil and India and digital in the US, where prices seem to have got ahead of themselves because of pressure on our competitors to catch up. This is clearly reflected in some of the operational and governance issues that are starting to surface elsewhere at our competitors, particularly in fast-growing markets like China.

Our acquisition focus in 2011 was again on the triple opportunities of faster-growing geographic markets, new media and consumer insight, including data analytics and the application of technology, totally consistent with our strategic priorities in the areas of geography, new communication services and measurability. In 2011, the Group spent £381 million on initial acquisition payments, net of cash acquired and disposal proceeds. Net acquisition spend is currently targeted at around £300 million per annum and we will continue to seize opportunities in line with our strategy.

  • Dividends or share buy-backs. We have increasingly come to the view, based on co-operative research with leading investment institutions, that, currently, the markets favour consistent increases in dividends and higher maintainable pay-out ratios, along with anti-dilutive buy-backs and, of course, sensibly-priced strategic acquisitions.

Following the strong first-half results in 2011, your Board raised the dividend by 25%, around five percentage points faster than the growth in diluted headline earnings per share, a pay-out ratio in the first half of 33%. For the full year, diluted headline earnings per share (including the exceptional tax credit) rose by 33% and as a result, the second interim dividend has been increased by 45%, bringing the total dividend for the year to 24.60p per share, up 38%, five percentage points higher than the growth in diluted headline earnings per share (including the exceptional tax credit) and 19 percentage points higher than the growth in diluted headline earnings per share (excluding the exceptional tax credit). As indicated in the AGM statement in June 2011, the Board’s objective remains to increase the dividend pay-out ratio to approximately 40% as soon as possible compared to the 2010 ratio of 31%. In 2011, it reached 36% on diluted headline earnings per share (excluding the exceptional tax credit) and 33% on diluted headline earnings per share (including the exceptional tax credit). Dividends to be paid in respect of 2011 will total over £300 million for the year.

Share buy-backs will continue to be targeted to absorb any share dilution from scrip dividends, issues of options or restricted stock, although the Company does also have considerable free cash flow to take advantage of any anomalies in market values, as it did last year. Share buy-backs in 2011 cost £182 million, representing 2.1% of issued share capital.

  • Chart showing distributions to shareownders
    Sum of share buy-backs and dividends paid divided by average shares in issue for the relevant period, as a % of the average share price for the relevant period.

Continue to enhance the value added by the
parent company.

4Fourth, we will continue to enhance the value added by the parent company and build unique integrated marketing approaches for clients. WPP is not just a holding company focused on planning, budgeting, reporting and financial issues, but a parent company that can add value to our clients and our people in the areas of human resources, property, procurement, information technology and practice development, including sustainability. We will continue to do this through a limited group of 400 or so people at the centre in Dublin, London, New York, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Shanghai and São Paulo. This does not mean that we seek to diminish the strength of our operating brands, but rather to learn from one another. Our objective is to maximise the added value for our clients in their businesses and our people in their careers.

Many of our initiatives are possible because of the scale on which we now operate. In the optimum use of property, in information technology and in procurement generally, we are able to achieve efficiencies that would be beyond the reach of any individual operating company.

But it is also clear that there is an increasing requirement for the centre to complement the operating companies in professional development and client coordination. It is a relatively recent development for certain multinational marketing companies, when looking to satisfy their global communications needs, to make their initial approach not to operating companies, but directly to holding or parent companies.

Such assignments present major, and increasingly frequent, opportunities for the few groups of our size. It is absolutely essential that we have the professional resources and the practice development capability to serve such clients comprehensively, actively and creatively. Initiatives involving some of the world’s largest marketers continue to gain momentum. The world’s largest advertiser is itself integrating its efforts around brands, in the areas of advertising, media investment management, market research, packaging design and public relations. Our largest client is seeking a seamless model, effectively a one-client agency within our Group. All our clients, whether global, multinational or local, continue to focus on the quality of our thinking, coordination of communications and price. In response, we focus on talent, structure and incentives.

Managing talent

Talent and its management therefore remain the lynchpin of our reason for existence: that is what our clients pay us for. Development of our people and the way we manage that talent is a critical determinant of performance and on that critical dimension, we continue to make significant progress.

In creating highly-competitive incentives with extremely attractive working environments, we increasingly differentiate ourselves from our competitors and improve the attractiveness of WPP companies as destinations for talent. Our quarterly reviews with the operating companies have been structured to give more time and attention to talent and to clients. Our recruiting efforts throughout 2011 were especially fruitful as we successfully targeted and recruited top talent within and beyond our industry, often competing with investment banking, management consulting, new media and private equity offers. The war for talent is fierce and will intensify further, and there is more to be done. 

The blueprint for our executive development curriculum has been completed, and our flagship client leadership training program, Maestro, is being continuously developed. The parent company and each of our operating companies installed its own approach to performance assessment and succession planning, aimed at developing the careers of their people, improving the quality of feedback, coaching and mentoring they receive and providing for orderly succession. We have launched a senior management mentoring and development program specifically for women, run by Charlotte Beers and called ‘The X Factor’. 

In 2011, your Company teamed up with the Shanghai Art & Design Academy (SADA) to establish the WPP School of Marketing and Communications. This jointly run school offers China’s first professional marketing and communications three-year diploma program. After 17 years, the WPP Marketing Fellowship program remains (sadly) the only multi-disciplinary and multi-geographical recruitment and training initiative in the industry.

We continued to scrutinise and modify our compensation practices, both to offer competitive and appropriately-based rewards to our people and to attract outstanding talent from elsewhere. This is a key strategic priority for us. Our competition is, sometimes, not so rigorous in evaluating and rewarding performance – for example, taking advantage of sharp falls in share prices to re-price or issue options or giving limited disclosure to investors of compensation plan details. A failure of external, as well as internal, audiences to understand the importance of globally competitive incentive-based compensation will undermine the Company’s leadership position. After all, we invest almost $10 billion a year in human capital, as opposed to only $400 million in fixed assets – 25 times more.


Of all businesses, communications services company must be a model of excellent external and internal communications. To that end, we accelerate understanding of the Group’s vast resources with a raft of regular communications through our websites and social media channels and in print: our monthly public online news bulletin, e.wire; our consistently-awarded global newspaper and eBook, The WIRE; our annual Atticus Journal of original marketing thinking; the WPP Reading Room, an extensive online library of think pieces (both public and original) from WPP professionals worldwide; our online Fact Files profiling Group resources/companies/ products; regular communication on Group initiatives such as the WPP Worldwide Partnership Program and the WPP Marketing Fellowship Program; our annual Sustainability Report and this consistently award-winning Annual Report, both in print and online. 

Property management 

In 2011, we were able to reduce our core property portfolio. Although square footage rose by 1.7% from 22.8 million sq ft to 23.2 million sq ft at the end of the year, this increase was less than the 3.1% of revenue growth attributable to acquisitions and considerably less than constant currency revenue growth of 8.4%, meaning our core portfolio (excluding the impact of acquisitions) reduced. Consequently, average square foot per head dropped to 211 sq ft, well ahead of the target of 220 sq ft we set ourselves.

As a result of this improvement in space utilisation the establishment cost-to-revenue ratio dropped to 6.7%, ahead of our long-term 7% run rate and in spite of a 3% increase in cost per square foot. For 2012 we will continue our focus on the key drivers of space per head, particularly in the US where it runs above our average, and the cost per square foot on our lease renewals, particularly in the faster-growing markets where the rental markets are rising fastest. Our aim is to maintain the establishment cost-to-revenue ratio at 7% or even reduce it. 


We continue to target clear sector leadership in procurement, through continuous investment in people, processes and technology. WPP has professional procurement resources based in 14 countries.

Our goal is to make savings and add value across all of WPP’s bought-out spend, with particular emphasis on opportunities to leverage our global, regional or local scale to the benefit of our clients and our operating companies.

Information technology 

In IT we continue to consolidate our core technology infrastructure with the objectives of reducing cost and improving quality. This enables our operating companies to concentrate their efforts on client- related developments and other internal business-focused applications. 

The convergence of mobile, voice and data communications has allowed us to take advantage of new offerings in the telecommunications sector to increase efficiencies and to provide enhanced support to our increasingly mobile workforce. 

Practice development 

In practice development we continue to develop horizontal initiatives in a focused set of high-potential areas across our vertical operating brands: in media investment management, healthcare, corporate sustainability, government, new technologies, new faster-growing markets, retailing, shopper marketing, internal communications, financial services and media and entertainment. Specifically, we continue to invest in sharing insights and developing initiatives through WPP Digital (in digital marketing and media) and The Store (in distribution and retail). 

In key geographic markets we are increasingly coordinating our activities through WPP Country Managers. We continue to believe that increasing coordination is required between our brands at the country and global levels, as the arguments for investment in regional management become weaker. In addition, we have increased the number of WPP Global Client Leaders to coordinate our efforts on behalf of clients and to ensure they receive maximum benefit from their relationships with WPP operating brands. Over 30 global client leaders have been appointed so far. 

Furthermore, we continue to encourage internal strategic alliances and promote co-operation. Practice development initiatives have therefore been reinforced in such areas as healthcare, retail, internal communications, corporate sustainability and media and entertainment. This has been especially important in developing our portfolio of direct investments in new media under WPP Digital and where our investments are working with our agencies and people to bring new technology capabilities and understanding to our clients. All these initiatives are designed to ensure that we, the parent company, really do (as well as being perceived to) inspire, motivate, coach, encourage, support and incentivise our operating companies to achieve their strategic and operational goals. 


The Group’s commitment to, and investment in, sustainability initiatives supports major business wins. We estimate that clients who engaged with WPP on our approach to sustainability were worth at least $1 billion to the Group in 2011. Read  more on sustainability at WPP.

Sustainability performance summary

 20112010Change %
Value of client business supported by our sustainability credentials* $1bn
Gender diversity (% of women total employees) 54% 54% 0%
Gender diversity (% of women Board directors/executive leaders) 31% 31% 0%
Investment in training and welfare £58.3m £48.9m +19%
Carbon footprint (tonnes of CO2 per person) 2.44 2.51 -3%
Social investment (£ million) £15.3m £14.3m +7%
* Value of clients who requested information on our sustainability policies and performance through their supplier management process.

Continue to place greater emphasis on revenue growth.

5Fifth, to continue to place greater emphasis on revenue growth. One legitimate criticism of our performance against the best-performing competition is our comparative level of organic revenue growth, although the methods used to calculate rates of organic growth ‘vary’ to say the least and we may have put too much emphasis on margin improvement. In 2011, our like-for-like revenue growth of 5.3% was strong but not as strong as others, although quarter-four growth of 4.5% was in the middle of the pack. On a gross margin basis, the Group’s like-for-like growth of 5.9% was in line with our leading competitors. Our margin performance is consistently at the top end of the pack.

  • Chart showing Organic revenue growth versus peers

Given the significance of Consumer Insight revenues to the Group, with none of our direct competitors present in that sector, gross margin and gross margin margins are a more meaningful measure of comparative, competitive revenue growth and margin performance. This is because Consumer Insight revenues include pass-through costs, principally for data collection, on which no margin is charged and with the growth of the internet, the process of data collection is more efficient 

Estimated net new business billings of £3.2 billion ($5.2 billion) were won in 2011, up over 7% on 2010, placing the Group first or second in all leading net new business tables.

Our practice development activities are also aimed at helping us position our portfolio in the faster-growing functional and geographic areas. In 2011, 24 acquisitions and investments were in new markets, 32 in new media and eight in Consumer Insight, including data analytics and the application of technology, with the balance of seven driven by individual client or agency needs.

Specifically, in 2011, acquisitions and increased equity stakes were completed in Advertising and Media Investment Management in the US, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Bahrain, South Africa, Brazil, Chile, China, India, South Korea and the Philippines; in Consumer Insight in the US, Ireland, Germany, Poland, Russia, Kenya, Japan and Sri Lanka; in Public Relations & Public Affairs in the US, the UK, South Africa and Singapore; in direct, digital and interactive in the US, the UK, Austria, Brazil, China, the Philippines and Singapore; and in Specialist Communications in the US and Kenya. 

So far in 2012, the Group has made acquisitions or increased equity interests in Advertising and Media Investment Management in Israel, China, Singapore and Indonesia; in Consumer Insight in China and New Zealand; in Public Relations & Public Affairs in the US, Finland, Russia and Hong Kong; and in direct, digital and interactive in Russia and Australia. These acquisitions continue to move us forward to our previously described strategic priorities; expanding the share of revenues of our businesses in Asia Pacific, Latin America, Africa and the Middle East, and Central and Eastern Europe to 35-40%; in new media to 35-40%; and in Consumer Insight, direct, digital and interactive, to over one-half. 

We intend to expand our strong networks – Ogilvy & Mather Advertising, JWT, Y&R, Grey, United, bates, Mindshare, MEC, MediaCom, Maxus, tenthavenue, TNS, Millward Brown, Kantar Media, Kantar Health, Kantar Retail, Kantar Worldpanel, Hill+Knowlton Strategies, Ogilvy Public Relations, Burson-Marsteller, Cohn & Wolfe, OgilvyOne Worldwide, Wunderman, OgilvyAction, G2, Possible Worldwide, 24/7 Media, Ogilvy CommonHealth Worldwide, Sudler & Hennessey, ghg, The Brand Union, Landor and FITCH – in high-growth markets or where their market share is insufficient. 

We will also enhance our leadership position in Consumer Insight by further development of our key brands with particular emphasis on North America, Asia Pacific, Latin America and Continental and Eastern Europe. We will continue our growth of research panels and have established a Kantar-wide operational capability. We will reinforce our growing position in media research through Kantar Media, which includes our investments in television audience research through the former TNS Media Intelligence and TNS Media Research, and IBOPE and Marktest, which, combined, is the market leader outside North America. We now measure television and/ or internet audiences in 47 countries around the world.

In addition, we intend to reinforce our worldwide strength in direct and interactive marketing and research through our traditional channels such as OgilvyOne, Wunderman, G2, Blanc & Otus and Lightspeed. We will also invest directly in new channels through start-ups, particularly as US and French valuations in search, for example, are still prohibitive. Other opportunities will be sought to enhance our online capabilities. 

Lastly, we will continue to develop our specialist expertise in areas such as healthcare, retail and interactive and to identify new high-growth areas.

Improve still further the quality of our creative

Creativity remains paramount

6Sixth, to improve still further the quality of creative work throughout the Group. Despite the growing importance of co-ordinated communications and price effectiveness, the quality of the work remains and will remain paramount. If you drew a graph plotting creative awards (as a proxy for creativity) against margins for any group of agencies, there would be a very strong correlation. The more awards, the stronger the margins. The client’s procurement department fades into the background when the work is strong. Of the three things we do – strategic thinking, creative execution and co-ordination – creative execution is undoubtedly the most important, and that means creativity in its broadest sense. 

Clients look for creative thinking and output not just from advertising agencies, public relations and design companies, but also from our media companies and our research companies. Millward Brown remains arguably one of our most creative brands. Witness the BrandZTM Top 100 Most Powerful Brands study published annually with the Financial Times and its study of the BrandZTM Top 50 Most Valuable Chinese Brands, together with the just-launched BrandZTM Top 50 Most Valuable Latin American Brands.

We intend to achieve this objective by stepping up our training and development programs; by recruiting the finest external talent; by celebrating and rewarding outstanding creative success tangibly and intangibly; by acquiring strong creative companies; and by encouraging, monitoring and promoting our companies’ achievements in winning creative awards. 

In pursuing these aims, the Group is led by John O’Keeffe, WPP’s worldwide creative director. Under John’s guidance, gratifying and discernible progress continues. 

Your Company was named Holding Company of the Year at the 2011 Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, the world’s premier showcase for excellence in communications. This marks the first time the Cannes Lions have measured and recognised creative performance at the parent company level. Based on the collective number of Cannes Lions awarded to WPP agencies for creative excellence, WPP accumulated 1,219 points in the competition, followed by Omnicom second with 1,152 points and Publicis with 744 points. Awards were won by WPP agencies from more than 30 countries across all continents, including most notably a prestigious Grand Prix awarded to JWT Shanghai, the first time a Chinese agency has won this top prize. Three years earlier, JWT India was the first agency to win a Cannes Grand Prix for India.

Our performance in The Gunn Report, even on an accurately-calculated weighted basis, is as strong, with GroupM topping the Media Holding Company of the Year tables and Mindshare the fastest growing of the two big agencies at the top of the report in terms of media creativity. 2011 also saw the fifth annual WPPED Cream awards, our internal award program for outstanding work across the Group.

We are committed to achieving our objectives in the right way, as a company that recognises our responsibilities to clients, our people and the world at large. Sustainability at WPP encompasses our principles for marketing ethics, privacy and data protection, our leading employment practices, our commitment to minimise our environmental footprint and the contribution we make to communities through pro bono work and charitable giving. This is not altruism or charity, it is good business when, like us, you are focused on long-term total share owner return. Our strong track record in this area enables us to take advantage of new commercial opportunities as sustainability continues to grow in importance for consumers, governments, brands and businesses in Western and fast-growing economies. Our goal is for WPP to be a centre of excellence for sustainability communication, giving our clients the best advice and enhancing consumers’ understanding of sustainability issues.

A summary of the Group’s approach to sustainability can be found here. Please also see our annual Sustainability Report on the work our clients and our people do in these increasingly important areas.

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