Telum Talks To… Laurent Ezekiel, Chief Marketing & Growth Officer, WPP

Telum Talks To… Laurent Ezekiel, Chief Marketing & Growth Officer, WPP

WPP's global CMO chatted about his role and his plans to be “more organised and purposeful” in presenting the WPP story to local markets.

Laurent Ezekiel joined WPP in May last year in the newly created role of Chief Marketing & Growth Officer, as the advertising and marketing services group entered a new era of leadership. He spoke to Telum about his role, WPP’s latest offerings, his passion for environment sustainability and what it means to be a “creative transformation company.”
 
A global industry veteran, Laurent was brought in to support WPP as Chief Marketing & Growth Officer, with a mandate to oversee its overall marketing strategy and tap into new areas of growth.
 
Impressed by the “pursuit of creativity at WPP”, Laurent shared that he decided to come on board, given that “it was a great challenge for me to come in and do something a little different to what I was doing before.” He believes that marketing and growth are interconnected and is looking to build partnerships and organise localised initiatives to present the new WPP story.
 
Creative transformation company
So what does it mean to be a “creative transformation company”, a vision that was shared by WPP CEO Mark Read?
 
“Creativity is the North Star for WPP - it’s our differentiator in the market and a major growth driver for our clients, so it's really important,” Laurent explained.
 
“We are really trying to modernise our approach, the brand, and in turn, the way we think about new business and technology,” he said. “We are just thinking way into the future, in regards to the type of people we want to work with, both internally and with clients. As a growth strategy, we are repositioning ourselves with simpler offerings: communications, experience, technology and commerce.
 
“Transformation is because all our clients are going through a level of change in this digital and volatile era and through technology and commerce, we can help them transform. And we’ve moved from being a group to a more collaborative company.”
 
Being people-focused is an integral part of the new narrative, according to Laurent. “It's just really important that the new WPP strategy is being injected into the leadership team. The WPP culture is also evolving to be more collaborative.”
 
Laurent explains that the company is organising itself to be more client-centric, which means to simplify and create “fewer, stronger brands within the company”. In recent years, WPP has created integrated agencies from BCW to Wunderman Thompson and VMLY&R to adapt to a changing market.

Laurent and his team is embarking on a three-year marketing-growth plan. With the ongoing changes, he sees year one as all about getting the WPP story to the market, its clients, new prospects and to its people. “We can’t underestimate this task. It’s a new WPP and we want to get the message out there.” Internal employee communications and championing WPP’s values of “openness, optimism and having a commitment to extraordinary work” is a big component of that plan as well, according to Laurent. “We are also working with our Chief People Officer in developing the WPP culture and story from the ground up.”
 
Phase two of the plan is about returning North America, which makes up 37 per cent of its business, to growth. The third year is in line with the vision that CEO Mark Read had set out, which is to achieve sustainable growth in line with its peers.
 
Marketing initiatives in Asia
In terms of presenting the WPP story to the local markets, Laurent shared his new approach of being “more organised and purposeful” in engaging the local teams and focusing on key events, partnerships and sponsorships throughout the year.
 
Various outreach initiatives have been planned for the region. Laurent is particularly excited about the WPP Stream event series that will seek to engage its partners and the start-up communities in future-focused discussions. In Asia, WPP Stream will take place in Jaipur, India this February as well as Indonesia later this year.
 
WPP will also be launching a Institute for Real Growth CMO roundtable for the first time ever in Singapore on 12th March this year, working in partnership with Google, LinkedIn, Facebook, the MMA and Spencer Steward. IRG’s aim is to identify what drives real business growth with findings that can help CMOs and clients identify growth opportunities. It will provide participants with access to a fact-based real growth framework as well as practical playbooks and guidelines to ensure that strategy, structure and capability are fully aligned to drive sustained growth. There will also be IRG Leadership trainings taking place in Shanghai this year.
 
Sustainability - not just a fad
Laurent also shared his perspectives on his other passion - sustainability. “I studied it because I wanted to change the world, and I somehow ended up in this industry but hopefully I can use that to help change the world a bit. But we put out one in five messages in the world at WPP, so we have a huge ability to influence for good.”
 
Like many corporations, WPP has pledged to remove all single-use plastics by 2020. As the company shifts towards more environmentally sustainable ways of working, Laurent said, “I’m extremely passionate about this. I came into WPP reviewing the initiatives around sustainability, which go from those publicly announced to carbon footprint reduction and various diversity initiatives. Some of them are a little bit less in the public domain, but they're really thorough.”
 
The role of sustainability has also taken on significance for many corporations and brands. According to Laurent, about 80 per cent of our client leaders are actively engaged in conversations around sustainability, and of that, half of them have put out work related to it.”

“For instance, we’ve worked with David Attenborough on the UN where we've put a people's seat in the UN to give individuals a voice to respond to some of the environmental policies."
 
Looking ahead
 
With the rise of omni-channel commerce and marketplaces in the region, commerce will take centre stage, especially in Asia. The work in managing data and AI will see an increased role within the marketing industry. “With a growing understanding of the AI technology and the endless opportunities, now it’s all about putting it to practice,” Laurent shared. “Same with data - we have to focus on the better use of data, rather than its abundance. I think that is definitely something that clients are looking to us for.”
 
In terms of what the future holds for both WPP and the industry, Laurent cites creativity as high up on the list. “Creativity will prevail. We can talk about other trends but there is one that is here to stay and that is good creative work. It’s still the basis of any comms strategy.”

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