Global titan WPP aims to ‘shake up’ the market

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WPP CEO Sir Martin Sorrell and Michael Lim, chairman of TODAY Ogilvy & Mather, discuss their plans for Myanmar on June 4. (Kyawt Thiri Nyunt/Myanmar Times)

The holding company that manages more than US$70 billion of advertising globally a year for its clients, including Coca Cola and Unilever, has accelerated its drive to establish itself here over past two months, through four of its global agencies.

Its recent licensing, joint venture and affiliate deals will allow WPP to offer clients interested in Myanmar the same template of integrated research, advertising, marketing and public relations services that it provides in more than 100 countries, executives from different units of the holding company said.

WPP CEO Sir Martin Sorrell said the deals give it a “first mover” advantage that could see it duplicating its success in other high-growth markets. “We’ve been in China since way before it became fashionable,” he said during an interview in Yangon on June 5, prior to attending the World Economic Forum on East Asia in the capital. WPP’s revenues in China, about $1.5 billion last year, are five times those of its nearest rivals, Mr Sorrell said while handling a fist-sized jade stone given to him by the owner of a PR firm here.

He had been told the jade stone would make him “healthier and calmer”. It could also come in handy as a weapon if he was asked an offensive question, quipped the frequently quoted CEO.

Mr Sorrell pioneered the global consolidation of public relations, advertising and market research in the 1980s and 1990s through a series of often hostile takeovers and rapid expansion into high-growth markets from East Asia to South America and the former Soviet Union.

WPP now encompasses a roster of global ad and PR agencies, most with local affiliates worldwide, and has stakes in a diverse range of online and digital pioneers, from Vice Media to 24/7.

“I like the idea that we’ve been very aggressive in terms of building our business here,” Mr Sorrell said, pointing to the lifting of sanctions by the EU as the trigger. The shift in attitude towards Myanmar in the West has created a massive opportunity for his clients and his company, he added.

WPP established a toehold in Myanmar last year by buying a stake in Today Advertising through its unit Ogilvy & Mather, a global PR agency. Last month it formed a joint venture, Y&R Yangon, with K-Noke Advertising through its unit Y&R, a global advertising agency.

In April its unit JWT, another global ad agency, signed an affiliate agreement with Yangon upstart Mango Marketing. In March its unit TNS became the first foreign firm to receive a licence to conduct market research in Myanmar. Another unit, Millward Brown – which says its works with 90 percent of the globe’s top brands – has also applied for a licence to do market research here, Mr Sorrell said, expressing optimism that it will receive one.

WPP has moved quickly into Myanmar because its clients expressed “a phenomenal degree of interest” in the market, particularly those in the “fast-moving consumer goods” sector, Mr Sorrell said, adding that he was surprised “competitors are not being more aggressive”.

Myanmar’s market interests WPP’s clients because of its large consumer base and its growth potential, with three sectors – natural resources, infrastructure and tourism – among the most attractive. Mr Sorrell said there are also significant opportunities in soft infrastructure, such as telecom and ICT devices, saying there would likely be “a very fast take-up of the Internet” and that people in Myanmar – like those in other developing countries – were likely to “leapfrog the PC and go straight to the Internet via a phone”.

Research conducted by local firms shows that the leap-frog effect is old news: About 22 percent of households in Mandalay and Yangon already has access to the Internet, most often through a smart phone, according to research by Myanmar Survey Research.

Mr Sorrell said WPP decided to start market research from scratch in Myanmar – rather than partner with a local firm – because its market research is the best. It also accounts for 25pc of the holding company’s revenues, he added.

Myanmar firms, however, are moving swiftly to differentiate their research from that conducted by WPP’s units, arguing that their local knowledge gives them the upper hand. When TNS launched its debut report on the consumer market in Myanmar on May 9 at the Park Royal Hotel, they held a rival conference to tout their research at the Sedona Hotel on the same day.

They also announced the formation of the Myanmar Market Research Association.

One local researcher said association members already provide research to 90pc of the brands WPP works with, and that WPP units – including TNS – have been hiring local firms to dosurveys and analysis for them.

“There’s a lot of spin going on,” another researcher said. “Nobody has been ‘waiting’ for WPP.” A WPP executive said such talk is common when WPP “shakes up” new markets.

Source: Myanmar Times

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