• WPP CEO Mark Read laid out the ad holding company giant would reopen its offices and said its China operation would serve as a model for other countries.
  • China offices are at 90% capacity and may remain that way indefinitely, Read said.
  • The US operation will be much slower to reopen due to a high prevalence of the virus in WPP’s New York City headquarters.
  • Some holding companies have spoken of reducing their real estate footprint to save money, but WPP said it’s focused on other methods including voluntary pay cuts.
  • Click here for more BI Prime stories.

The largest ad holding company, WPP, is determining how and when to reopen its offices for its 90,000-plus employees who are working remotely due to the coronavirus pandemic.

CEO Mark Read told Business Insider that WPP China experienced a “fairly rapid bounceback” after lockdown ended last month and that it would serve as a model for its agencies elsewhere.

He cautioned that progress will be slow and said WPP will err on the side of caution, especially in the US, as the pandemic continues to hamper his three-year turnaround plan.

“It’s frustrating that you can’t see the progress we’ve made due to the virus,” he said, citing $1 billion in new business wins for the first quarter.

WPP China may remain at 90% occupancy indefinitely, Read said

WPP said it started reopening its offices in China, where it employs 9,000 people, in late February and early March as government policies differed from city to city.

WPP initially brought about 30% of people back into their offices, with teams coming in on alternating days to minimize potential exposure. The company also required that employees undergo temperature checks and wear face masks.

Read told Business Insider that return was voluntary for Chinese employees, because anxiety about the pandemic persisted even after the lockdown ended.

“[WPP] China is at 90% pre-pandemic occupancy, and it may stay that way permanently,” he said.

Read said the masks are more culturally acceptable in China but that other markets will have to adjust.

US offices will take longer to reopen and may lag government recommendations to keep employees safe

Read said US offices would not reopen as fast as China due to several factors, including the continued concentration of coronavirus cases in WPP’s New York City headquarters and the fact that many employees will be reluctant to use crowded public transportation.

“When we bring employees back in New York — and I use ‘when’ advisedly — I expect it to be voluntary,” Read said.

WPP will follow the lead of local governments but may lag behind their recommended opening dates in the interest of keeping employees safe, he said.

Unlike other holding companies, WPP is not focused on real estate to save on costs

CEO Harris Diamond of IPG’s McCann Worldgroup said his agency would strongly consider shrinking and even permanently closing some offices.

But Read said real estate has not been a key focus for WPP, largely because the company had already consolidated many of its offices into campuses in the past few years.

The CEO said his company does plan to reduce its investment in IT and HR resources. It has also moved a number of employees to part-time, terminated many freelance and contract staffers, and asked thousands making over $100,000 to take pay cuts of 10% or more.

“There will likely be some permanent headcount reductions,” Read said.

Got more information about this story or another ad industry tip? Contact Patrick Coffee on Signal at (347) 563-7289, email at pcoffee@businessinsider.com or patrickcoffee@protonmail.com, or via Twitter DM @PatrickCoffee. You can also contact Business Insider securely via SecureDrop.

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