WPP Overtakes Interpublic in Global Billings Stakes

23 April 2002

WPP Group’s global revenues may be down 9%, and the agency sector not set for recovery until 2004 [WAMN: 22-Apr-02] - but chief executive Sir Martin Sorrell today has a broad smile on his face.

Reclaiming the world number one ad and marketing agency slot – lost to Interpublic when it acquired FCB Group in 2000 – has long been Sorrell’s unvoiced ambition – and on Monday he achieved his goal, according to Advertising Age.

The ad trade bible’s annual Agency Income Report – its 58th – lifts WPP from second place to head of the heap with $8.17 billion (€9.21bn; £5.64bn) in gross income – a whisker (2.4%) ahead of Interpublic Group’s $7.98bn.

The rankings reversal is largely due to two factors: account losses at Interpublic units FCB Group and Lowe & Partners allowed WPP to insert a foot in the door, which it proceeded to kick wide open thanks to $5.5bn in additional media billings from its [ironically] reluctant acquisition last year of Britain's Tempus Group.

Globally, the Big Three just go on getting bigger with WPP, Interpublic and Omnicom Group between them controlling 43.7% of the world's advertising and marketing services sector. Their collective gross income is up by nearly six share points on 2001, aggregating $39.28 billion.

But the elite club may soon be joined by a fourth member, Publicis Groupe, whose pending acquisition of Bcom3 Group will propel it to the top table. In which case, the ruling quartet will command an awesome 54.6% of global ad and marketing services expenditure – up year-on-year by eight percentage points.

But Ad Age’s numbers will not necessarily tally with the groups’ published annual accounts. As the magazine explains: “Gross income totals in this report differ from stated results at these public companies because agencies reporting to Ad Age claim gross income and billings equal to their ownership percentage, counter to GAAP [generally accepted accounting principles]. These allow companies to claim the revenue stream only when ownership exceeds 50%.”

Data sourced from: AdAge.com; additional content by WARC staff