Financial Results Agencies Agency Models

Which ad networks were the biggest winners and losers in 2020?


By John Glenday, Reporter

March 15, 2021 | 5 min read

The dawn of a new financial year allows us to sift through the wreckage of 2020 and quantify the relative performance of all the top global advertising networks during a period of abrupt and far-reaching change.

money cash

Now that the holding groups have all released their annual results, we look at the big picture / Jan Vašek/Pixabay

With 2020 behind us, The Drum rounds-up the performance of the biggest networks in advertising, highlight those most wounded, and those who escaped mostly unscathed.


  • WPP slumped to an eye-watering pre-tax annual loss of £2.8bn in 2020.

  • The losses were the inevitable consequence of an 8.2% contraction in like-for-like revenues for the year with media giant GroupM leading the losses. Pointed to was also capital expenditure tied to previous acquisitions.

  • Attempting to put a positive spin on a 'tough' 2020, WPP chief Mark Read seized on a slowing of revenue contraction to negative 6.5% as a sign that 2021 will deliver a 'solid year of recovery'. The company's performance also marginally beat analysts' expectations.

  • More here.


  • Japan’s marcomms flag-bearer also emerged bruised and battered with losses doubling throughout 2020 to reach $1.3bn (£0.93bn).

  • Slumping into the red, Dentsu's difficulties have accelerated a major restructuring around six global agency brands that will see around 6,000 staff depart, equivalent to 10% of its global workforce.

  • Conceding that Dentsu has underperformed, Toshihiro Yamamoto, president and chief executive officer at Dentsu Group acknowledged that 2020 ”... was a challenging year for society, for our clients, our business and, of course, our people.”

  • Despite this Yamamoto is confident that a restructuring around fewer brands will lay the groundwork for a future return to growth.

  • You can find more of our Dentsu coverage here.


  • The bloodbath did not spare Omnicom which weathered a 12% decline in annual growth as advertisers ran for the hills at the onset of the pandemic.

  • CEO John Wren said: “Our agency leaders have done an excellent job of managing our cost base to be aligned with revenues and that the work continues into 2021. At the same time, we remain laser-focused on driving our strategic priorities to expand our clients' services and win new business.”

  • Wren does not see any immediate light at the end of the tunnel, warning that 2021 will present challenges of its own.

  • Find more of The Drum’s Omnicom coverage here.


  • Faring somewhat better than its competitors, IPG outperformed expectations with ‘solid‘ net revenues of $2.28bn in the fourth quarter, down 6.1% on a year-on-year basis.

  • New boss Philippe Krakowsky, said: “[Our] performance once again should place us at the top of our sector. We continued to be disciplined with respect to expenses, proactive and strategic in our approach to structural cost actions, while simultaneously investing in our business during the year to accelerate areas of strongest opportunity and growth.“

  • IPG has been successful in reining in costs, shrinking salary expenses by 4% to $5.35bn following 1,500 layoffs.

  • Read more of The Drum’s Omnicom coverage here.


  • Publicis also closed out the year in unexpectedly strong fettle following a ‘resilient‘ performance that saw organic revenues slide by a relatively sedate 6.3% for the year.

  • Chief executive Arthur Sadoun is less sanguine than his peers concerning future performance, however, cautioning that 2021 may transpire to be an even ‘tougher‘ year than 2020.

  • Nevertheless, Sadoun remains bullish, stating: “We demonstrated in 2020 that we’re confident in our model, we believe that the shift to digital personalisation at scale and e-commerce is an opportunity for us.“

  • Recovery through 2021 is unlikely to be swift nor complete with the global advertising spend not expected to return to pre-pandemic levels until 2022 at the earliest, according to Dentsu.

  • Take in more of our Publicis coverage here.

Financial Results Agencies Agency Models

Content created with:


WPP plc is a British multinational communications, advertising, public relations, technology, and commerce holding company headquartered in London, England. It was...

Find out more

More from Financial Results

View all


Industry insights

View all
Add your own content +