WPP has appointed Angela Ahrendts, the former head of retail at Apple and chief executive of Burberry, to its board in a sign of the advertising group’s ambition to better combine the tech and creative sides of its business.
The non-executive position is the second taken by Ms Ahrendts since she left Apple last year, ending a five-year stint as one of the group’s most highly paid executives. She was appointed to Airbnb’s board in May as the accommodation booking company seeks to reposition itself as a travel brand.
Ms Ahrendts’ move marks another step in the evolution of the WPP board since the departure of Martin Sorrell, the executive who built a small wire basket maker into the world’s biggest advertising group. Other new board appointments since 2018 include Cindy Rose, the Microsoft UK chief executive, Keith Weed, a former marketing executive at Unilever, and John Rogers, chief financial officer.
“Angela’s reputation as a leader of creative and technology-driven businesses is second to none,” said Roberto Quarta, WPP chairman. “She also has deep insight into our clients’ needs in a changing world. We are delighted that she will be joining the WPP board.”
Before joining Apple Ms Ahrendts ran Burberry for eight years, where she won plaudits for reviving an old British fashion brand through canny digital marketing that won over a younger, overseas audience.
Like most of the marketing sector, WPP has been hit hard by the slump in advertising during the pandemic with its share price almost halving in the immediate wake of the lockdown in March. The group has scrapped its dividend and about 3,000 senior managers have taken pay cuts.
WPP shares have since recovered but are still down 30 per cent since late February, putting the group behind Omnicom as the world’s second-largest ad group by market capitalisation.
However, analysts say the ad market is showing signs of stabilisation following sharp cuts to marketing spending in the early stages of the pandemic. Thomas Singlehurst at Citi noted advertisers were indicating product launches and campaigns would resume. “Although timing is uncertain, the scene is set for a V-shaped recovery in advertising, at least in its early stages,” he wrote in a note to clients.
Mark Read, chief executive, told shareholders at the group’s annual meeting on Wednesday that clients were now “in the recovery phase” and had started “to think through the other side of the Covid situation”. “They’re getting back to communicate with their consumers in most parts of the world,” he said.
As well as simplifying the sprawling WPP family of agencies, Mr Read has tried to bolster the group’s tech capabilities and better combine them with the creative side of its traditional advertising business.
Ms Ahrendts said she was “honoured” to be asked to help Mr Read develop a company strategy “that values creative talent while embracing societal shifts and new technologies”.