WS bullish despite downturn

Weber Shandwick's global top three have criticised WPP's decision to implement a group-wide recruitment freeze as a 'scattergun' approach.

Leader: WS global CEO Harris Diamond
Leader: WS global CEO Harris Diamond

It emerged this week that WPP CEO Sir Martin Sorrell had issued an internal email across WPP ordering that any job offers made but not yet accepted should be withdrawn immediately. Hill & Knowlton, Cohn & Wolfe and Buchanan Communications are all part of the WPP group.

But this week, WS global CEO Harris Diamond, president Andy Polansky and Colin Byrne – newly appointed to the role of European CEO – dismissed the possibility of a similar move at WS, which is owned by WPP rival Interpublic Group.

Diamond said: ‘I’ve always believed in using a rifle rather than a shotgun.’ Byrne added: ‘That’s a scattergun approach. If an edict came down saying “don’t hire anyone anywhere”, it applies just as much to some small boutique agency as to Hill & Knowlton. If Hill & Knowlton is growing, for example, what the hell are they thinking?’

Byrne has replaced Rolf Olsen as European CEO, but continues to oversee the UK and Irish markets. The promotion should kill off speculation linking Byrne to a top comms role at Downing Street.

Diamond was bullish about WS’ prospects, despite the economic climate. ‘In this business there are always places you can grow,’ he said. ‘You still have the ability to make compelling propositions to clients. We don’t want to send out a message saying we’re not interested.’

Diamond outlined an opposing recession strategy focusing on investing in people with specialist skills such as nutrition and oncology to develop new divisions. ‘That’s where all our growth is coming from,’ he said.

Despite this, WS is planning to halt acquisitions in new markets such as Eastern Europe and the Middle East, apart from ‘sure things’.

The three leaders remain in close, almost daily, contact and their phone conversations are largely client-driven, focusing on the 40 top WS clients in five or more countries.

Diamond views the UK as WS’ strongest market. He is projecting eight per cent growth for WS in the UK this year, with key growth areas being public affairs, corporate, tech and healthcare.

He also predicted that within a year recession fears would be replaced by other issues.


How I see it

Richard Oldworth - Senior partner, Buchanan Communications

‘Due to the challenging financial markets, we are wary of increasing our cost base. While we have hired this year, we have been conservative and only replace staff who have left by recruiting graduates and trainees at junior levels.’

Donna Imperato - CEO, Cohn & Wolfe

‘I have not yet decided where the major cuts will be. We might cut a little on travel, or not hold as many large meetings during the first half of the year. The first thing people are going to look to cut next year is training and development. However, that will not be the case at Cohn & Wolfe.’

8% - Predicted growth for WS UK in 2008-09
30% - Percentage of WS UK’s business that is global
23% - Growth of WS in China
78 - Number of WS offices in EMEA
24 - Number of WS offices in the US and Canada

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