WPP's PR arm slows in Q2 amid weaker financial PR performance

WPP has reported a weaker performance in its PR business in the second quarter of 2019, citing a dip in its financial PR businesses in the UK and Germany.

WPP: The firm's PR arm had the highest margin of any division in H1
WPP: The firm's PR arm had the highest margin of any division in H1

Revenue in the PR division – which includes Burson Cohn & Wolfe, Hill+Knowlton Strategies, Finsbury and Buchanan - was £228m in Q2, a decline of 2.6 per cent on a like-for-like basis. It compares to a like-for-like decline of 0.4 per cent in Q1.

"This was driven by weaker performance in the group's financial public relations businesses in the United Kingdom and Germany, partly the result of strong comparatives in the second quarter of 2018," WPP stated.

Overall revenue decline in the division in Q2 - including acquisitions and disposals, but stripping out the impact of currency fluctuations - was 0.9 per cent.

Across the first half of 2019, like-for-like revenue in the PR arm fell 1.5 per cent to £442m.

PR is no longer the best-performing division at WPP by revenue growth, but with a margin of 15.7 per cent, it was the most profitable in the half year. Operating profit in the division rose from £69m to £69.6m in H1.

PR accounted for 7.2 per cent of WPP's revenue in H1, a lower figure than in the previous reporting periods, when the division was referred to as 'PR and Public Affairs'.

Profit fall

WPP reported a sharp decline in profit in the half year, with pre-tax profit down 44.1 per cent to £478m. The company said this was driven primarily by an exceptional gain of £117m in the same period last year, and a £138m one-off tax charge.

Like-for-like revenue fell 0.6 per cent to £7.62bn in H1, although the decline slowed in the second quarter (-1.4 per cent) compared to the first (-2.8 per cent).

WPP CEO Mark Read said: "WPP's performance in the second quarter was slightly ahead of our internal expectations, but in line with our full-year guidance and three-year strategic targets. Clients are responding well to our new offer, as evidenced by recent wins and expanded assignments, including from eBay, Instagram and L'Oréal. An encouraging number of our businesses and markets are achieving good growth.

"That said, we are still in the early stages of our three-year turnaround plan, and we remain focused on returning the company to sustainable growth over that period. Our guidance for the full year is unchanged.

"We continue to simplify WPP, with a more integrated offer for our clients; better, more collaborative working environments for our people; and less-complicated management structures."

WPP agreed to sell 60 per cent of its Kantar business in July to Bain Capital Private Equity, and the group has made 44 disposals over the last 15 months.

Read said once the Kantar transaction completes, WPP's disposal programme would have generated proceeds of around £3.6bn, "allowing us to return significant amounts to shareholders and reduce our leverage to the low end of the target range".

"The progress we have made and the positive new business momentum are reasons for optimism. As a creative transformation company with stronger, more tech-enabled agencies, we are well placed for the future as clients look for modern partners to help them navigate an increasingly complex and challenging marketing landscape."

Analyst Steve Liechti of Numis said the results are "broadly as expected". "Underlying decline in Q2 is a little better than modelled, with all geographies improving in Q2 over Q1."

Appointment

Meanwhile, WPP today announced the appointment of Jasmine Whitbread, chief executive of non-profit organisation London First, to its board as a non-executive director.

She was previously international chief executive of Save the Children. Whitbread, who began her career in international marketing in the technology sector, will join WPP on 1 September and serve on the compensation committee.

WPP chairman Roberto Quarta said: "Jasmine's experience spans marketing, technology, finance, media, telecommunications and not-for-profit organisations. The Board will benefit greatly from this breadth of perspective and her knowledge of so many of the client sectors that WPP serves."

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