Reports that Tim Armstrong, Oath’s chief executive, is the main target to succeed Sir Martin Sorrell would be a good move for WPP but not so for the man himself, according to Maurice Levy, former chief executive of Publicis Groupe.
Speaking to The Drum, Levy talked of his “good friend” Armstrong, who he has known for over a decade, since they worked together on a deal that saw Publicis first partner with Google when Armstrong was the tech giant’s head of sales.
Armstrong then went on to join AOL as chief executive in 2009, having been previously promoted to Google’s US president.
With AOL becoming Oath, following the merger with Verizon and the subsequent acquisition of Yahoo in recent years, Armstrong has been leading an ambitious international growth strategy for the media company. This has reportedly caught the eye of the world’s largest advertising agency network, and placed him as a potential candidate to succeed Sir Martin Sorrell, who stepped down last month.
Since the initial reports broke, Armstrong has seemingly distanced himself from the move, with a tweet that claimed he still had a job to do, without stating outright that he wasn’t interested.
Levy said that he believed Armstrong has “very strong strategic skills” and saw him as a “real leader” with charisma who leads not through fear, but through vision and communication.
“He is very strong, he is a great salesman, he knows extremely well the new world we are in and clearly. If tomorrow he moves to this new role, it will be a big threat for all the competitors because he has a clear vision of what the client needs and also has a very strong ability of getting the people to follow his views,” said Levy.
“It would be a great move for WPP, but I’m not sure that it would be the best for him, which is another story. He doesn’t currently have to deal with the issues of a public company, only with making sure that he is creating the right product and making sure that he is also delivering to the clients and to the holding company what they need. He is in a much more comfortable situation today and I believe that if WPP is to succeed in getting him, it would be a very good solution.”
On whether Armstrong’s lack of experience of running an agency, never mind an agency network, would be a weakness, Levy said he did not believe so.
“He understands advertising and the client needs, so he is not like someone coming from an industry that is foreign to the advertising world, he knows what the clients are expecting from the agency.
"A large share of the business of agencies today is media, which he understands very well and he also knows digital very well and what people can get from content and the rest. He would need some adaptation but I do not believe that he would be foreign to the world.”
And while he didn’t believe any advice was needed for Armstrong, Levy did offer his view that if he did become the new chief executive of WPP, he should take time to take stock of all of the agency brands within the network, and decide which “assets” were needed by clients and which were “dispensable”.
Levy was also not interested in taking the role himself, should WPP come calling for someone with plenty of experience running an agency network. After laughing, he responded: “I was almost born at Publicis and Publicis is my life.”
WPP is currently being run on an interim basis by Wunderman boss Mark Read, who has been a front runner for the top job for a couple of years now, and WPP's chief operating officer for Europe, Andrew Scott, while a decision is made over the leadership on a permanent basis. Other names in the frame have included Unilever chief marketing and communications officer, Keith Weed and Lindsay Pattinson, chief transformation officer for WPP.