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Accounting policies

The consolidated financial statements of WPP plc and its subsidiaries (the Group) for the year ended 31 December 2010 have been prepared in accordance with International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) as adopted by the European Union as they apply to the financial statements of the Group for the year ended 31 December 2010.

The Group’s financial statements are also consistent with International Financial Reporting Standards as issued by the International Accounting Standards Board.

Basis of preparation

The consolidated financial statements have been prepared under the historical cost convention, except for the revaluation of certain financial instruments. The principal accounting policies are set out below.

Basis of consolidation

The consolidated financial statements include the results of the Company and all its subsidiary undertakings made up to the same accounting date. All intra-Group balances, transactions, income and expenses are eliminated in full on consolidation. The results of subsidiary undertakings acquired or disposed of during the period are included or excluded from the consolidated income statement from the effective date of acquisition or disposal.

Goodwill and other intangible assets

Intangible assets comprise goodwill, certain acquired separable corporate brand names, acquired customer relationships, acquired proprietary tools and capitalised computer software not integral to a related item of hardware.

Goodwill represents the excess of fair value attributed to investments in businesses or subsidiary undertakings over the fair value of the underlying net assets, including intangible assets, at the date of their acquisition.

Goodwill impairment reviews are undertaken annually or more frequently if events or changes in circumstances indicate a potential impairment. The carrying value of goodwill is compared to the net present value of future cash flows derived from the underlying assets using a projection period of up to five years for each cash-generating unit. After the projection period a steady growth rate representing an appropriate long-term growth rate for the industry is applied. Any impairment is recognised immediately as an expense and is not subsequently reversed.

Corporate brand names, customer relationships and proprietary tools acquired as part of acquisitions of businesses are capitalised separately from goodwill as intangible assets if their value can be measured reliably on initial recognition and it is probable that the expected future economic benefits that are attributable to the asset will flow to the Group.

Certain corporate brands of the Group are considered to have an indefinite economic life because of the institutional nature of the corporate brand names, their proven ability to maintain market leadership and profitable operations over long periods of time and the Group’s commitment to develop and enhance their value. The carrying value of these intangible assets is reviewed at least annually for impairment and adjusted to the recoverable amount if required.

Amortisation is provided at rates calculated to write off the cost less estimated residual value of each asset on a straight-line basis over its estimated useful life as follows:

Acquired intangibles

  • Brand names (with finite lives) – 10-20 years.
  • Customer related intangibles – 3-10 years.
  • Other proprietary tools – 3-10 years.
  • Other (including capitalised computer software) – 3-5 years.

Contingent consideration

Contingent consideration is accounted for in accordance with IFRS 3 (revised) Business Combinations.

Future anticipated payments to vendors in respect of contingent consideration (earnout agreements) are initially recorded at fair value which is the present value of the expected cash outflows of the obligations. The obligations are dependent on the future financial performance of the interests acquired (typically over a four to five year period following the year of acquisition) and assume the operating companies improve profits in line with directors’ estimates. The directors derive their estimates from internal business plans together with financial due diligence performed in connection with the acquisition.

Subsequent adjustments to the fair value are recorded in the consolidated income statement within revaluation of financial instruments. For acquisitions completed prior to 1 January 2010, such adjustments are recorded in the consolidated balance sheet within goodwill.

Property, plant and equipment

Property, plant and equipment are shown at cost less accumulated depreciation and any provision for impairment with the exception of freehold land which is not depreciated. The Group assesses the carrying value of its property, plant and equipment to determine if any impairment has occurred. Where this indicates that an asset may be impaired, the Group applies the requirements of IAS 36 Impairment of Assets in assessing the carrying amount of the asset. This process includes comparing its recoverable amount with its carrying value. Depreciation is provided at rates calculated to write off the cost less estimated residual value of each asset on a straight-line basis over its estimated useful life, as follows:

  • Freehold buildings – 50 years.
  • Leasehold land and buildings – over the term of the lease or life of the asset, if shorter.
  • Fixtures, fittings and equipment – 3-10 years.
  • Computer equipment – 3-5 years.

Interests in associates and joint ventures

The Group’s share of the profits less losses of associate undertakings net of tax, interest and non-controlling interests is included in the consolidated income statement and the Group’s share of net assets is shown within interests in associates in the consolidated balance sheet. The Group’s share of the profits less losses and net assets is based on current information produced by the undertakings, adjusted to conform with the accounting policies of the Group.

The Group assesses the carrying value of its associate undertakings to determine if any impairment has occurred. Where this indicates that an investment may be impaired, the Group applies the requirements of IAS 36 in assessing the carrying amount of the investment. This process includes comparing its recoverable amount with its carrying value.

The Group accounts for joint venture investments under the equity method which is consistent with the Group’s treatment of associates.

Other investments

Other investments are designated as ‘available for sale’ and are shown at fair value with any movements in fair value taken to equity.

On disposal the cumulative gain or loss previously recognised in equity is included in the profit or loss for the year. Impairment losses recognised in profit or loss for equity investments classified as ‘available for sale’ are not subsequently reversed through profit or loss.

Inventory and work in progress

Work in progress is valued at cost, which includes outlays incurred on behalf of clients and an appropriate proportion of directly attributable costs and overheads on incomplete assignments. Provision is made for irrecoverable costs where appropriate. Inventory is stated at the lower of cost and net realisable value.

Trade receivables

Trade receivables are stated net of provisions for bad and doubtful debts.

Foreign currency and interest rate hedging

The Group’s policy on interest rate and foreign exchange rate management sets out the instruments and methods available to hedge interest and currency risk exposures and the control procedures in place to ensure effectiveness.

The Group uses derivative financial instruments to reduce exposure to foreign exchange risk and interest rate movements. The Group does not hold or issue derivative financial instruments for speculative purposes.

Derivatives are initially recognised at fair value at the date a derivative contract is entered into and are subsequently remeasured to their fair value at each balance sheet date. The resulting gain or loss is recognised in profit or loss immediately unless the derivative is designated and effective as a hedging instrument, in which event the timing of the recognition in profit or loss depends on the nature of the hedge relationship.

At the inception of the hedge relationship the entity documents the relationship between the hedging instrument and hedged item, along with its risk management objectives and its strategy for undertaking various hedge transactions. Furthermore, at the inception of the hedge and on an ongoing basis, the Group documents whether the hedging instrument that is used in a hedging relationship is highly effective in offsetting changes in fair values or cash flows of the hedged item.

Note 25 contains details of the fair values of the derivative instruments used for hedging purposes.

Changes in the fair value of derivatives that are designated and qualify as fair value hedges are recorded in profit or loss immediately, together with any changes in the fair value of the hedged item that is attributable to the hedged risk.

The effective portion of changes in the fair value of derivatives that are designated and qualify as cash flow or net investment hedges is deferred in equity. The gain or loss relating to the ineffective portion is recognised immediately in profit or loss. Amounts deferred in equity are recycled in profit or loss in the periods when the hedged item is recognised in profit or loss. However, when the forecast transaction that is hedged results in the recognition of a non-financial asset or a non-financial liability, the gains and losses previously deferred in equity are transferred from equity and included in the initial measurement of the cost of the asset or liability.

Hedge accounting is discontinued when the hedging instrument expires or is sold, terminated, or exercised, or no longer qualifies for hedge accounting. At that time, any cumulative gain or loss on the hedging instrument recognised in equity is retained in equity until the forecast transaction occurs. If a hedged transaction is no longer expected to occur, the net cumulative gain or loss recognised in equity is transferred to net profit or loss for the period.

Derivatives embedded in other financial instruments or other host contracts are treated as separate derivatives when their risks and characteristics are not closely related to those of host contracts and the host contracts are not carried at fair value with unrealised gains or losses reported in the consolidated income statement.

Liabilities in respect of option agreements

Option agreements that allow the Group’s equity partners to require the Group to purchase a non-controlling interest are treated as derivatives over equity instruments and are recorded in the consolidated balance sheet at fair value and the valuation is remeasured at each period end. Fair value is based on the present value of expected cash outflows and the movement in the fair value is recognised as income or expense within revaluation of financial instruments in the consolidated income statement.

Derecognition of financial liabilities

In accordance with IAS 39 Financial Instruments: Recognition and Measurement, a financial liability of the Group is only released to the consolidated income statement when the underlying legal obligation is extinguished.

Convertible debt

Convertible debt is assessed according to the substance of the contractual arrangements and is classified into liability and equity elements on the basis of the initial fair value of the liability element. The difference between this figure and the cash received is classified as equity.

The consolidated income statement charge for the finance cost is spread evenly over the term of the convertible debt so that at redemption the liability equals the redemption value.

Bank borrowings

Other interest-bearing bank loans and overdrafts are recorded at the proceeds received, net of direct issue costs.

Borrowing costs

Finance costs of borrowing are recognised in the consolidated income statement over the term of those borrowings.

Revenue recognition

Revenue comprises commission and fees earned in respect of amounts billed. Direct costs include fees paid to external suppliers where they are retained to perform part or all of a specific project for a client and the resulting expenditure is directly attributable to the revenue earned. Revenue is stated exclusive of VAT, sales taxes and trade discounts.

Advertising and Media Investment Management

Revenue is typically derived from commissions on media placements and fees for advertising services. Revenue may consist of various arrangements involving commissions, fees, incentive-based revenue or a combination of the three, as agreed upon with each client.

Revenue is recognised when the service is performed, in accordance with the terms of the contractual arrangement. The amount of revenue recognised depends on whether we act as an agent or as a principal in an arrangement with a client. Where we act as an agent, the revenue recorded is the net amount retained when the fee or commission is earned. Although the Group may bear credit risk in respect of these activities, the arrangements with our clients are such that we consider that we are acting as an agent on their behalf. In such cases, costs incurred with external suppliers (such as media suppliers) are excluded from our revenue. Where the Group acts as a principal and contracts directly with suppliers for media payments and production costs, the revenue recorded is the gross amount billed.

Incentive-based revenue typically comprises both quantitative and qualitative elements; on the element related to quantitative targets, revenue is recognised when the quantitative targets have been achieved; on the element related to qualitative targets, revenue is recognised when the incentive is received or receivable.

The Group receives volume rebates from certain suppliers for transactions entered into on behalf of clients that, based on the terms of the relevant contracts and local law, are either remitted to clients or retained by the Group. If amounts are passed on to clients they are recorded as liabilities until settled or, if retained by the Group, are recorded as revenue when earned.

Consumer Insight

Revenue recognised in proportion to the level of service performed for market research contracts is based on proportional performance. In assessing contract performance, both input and output criteria are reviewed. Costs incurred are used as an objective input measure of performance. The primary input of all work performed under these arrangements is labour. As a result of the relationship between labour and cost, there is normally a direct relationship between costs incurred and the proportion of the contract performed to date. Costs incurred as a proportion of expected total costs is used as an initial proportional performance measure. This indicative proportional performance measure is subsequently validated against other more subjective criteria (i.e. relevant output measures) such as the percentage of interviews completed, percentage of reports delivered to a client and the achievement of any project milestones stipulated in the contract. In the event of divergence between the objective and more subjective measures, the more subjective measures take precedence since these are output measures.

While most of the studies provided in connection with the Group’s market research contracts are undertaken in response to an individual client’s or group of clients’ specifications, in certain instances a study may be developed as an off-the-shelf product offering sold to a broad client base. For these transactions, revenue is recognised when the product is delivered. Where the terms of transaction provide for licensing the product on a subscription basis, revenue is recognised over the subscription period on a straight-line basis or, if applicable, based on usage.

Substantially all services are provided on a fixed price basis. Pricing may also include a provision for a surcharge where the actual labour hours incurred in completing a project are significantly above the labour hours quoted in the project proposal. In instances where this occurs, the surcharge will be included in the total revenue base on which to measure proportional performance when the actual threshold is reached provided that collectability is reasonably assured.

Public Relations & Public Affairs and Branding & Identity, Healthcare and Specialist Communications

Revenue is typically derived from retainer fees and services to be performed subject to specific agreement. Revenue is recognised when the service is performed, in accordance with the terms of the contractual arrangement. Revenue is recognised on long-term contracts, if the final outcome can be assessed with reasonable certainty, by including in the consolidated income statement revenue and related costs as contract activity progresses.

Taxation

Corporate taxes are payable on taxable profits at current rates. The tax expense represents the sum of the tax currently payable and deferred tax.

The Group is subject to corporate taxes in a number of different jurisdictions and judgement is required in determining the appropriate provision for transactions where the ultimate tax determination is uncertain. In such circumstances the Group recognises liabilities for anticipated taxes based on the best information available and where the anticipated liability is both probable and estimable. Where the final outcome of such matters differs from the amount recorded, any differences may impact the income tax and deferred tax provisions in the period in which the final determination is made.

The tax laws that apply to the Group’s subsidiaries may be amended by the relevant tax authorities. Such potential amendments are regularly monitored and adjustments are made to the Group’s tax liabilities and deferred tax assets and liabilities where necessary.

The tax currently payable is based on taxable profit for the year. Taxable profit differs from net profit as reported in the consolidated income statement because it excludes items of income or expense that are taxable or deductible in other years and it further excludes items that are never taxable or deductible. The Group’s liability for current tax is calculated using tax rates that have been enacted or substantively enacted by the balance sheet date.

Deferred tax is the tax expected to be payable or recoverable on differences between the carrying amounts of assets and liabilities in the financial statements and the corresponding tax bases used in the computation of taxable profit, and is accounted for using the balance sheet liability method. Deferred tax liabilities are recognised for all taxable temporary differences unless specifically excepted by IAS 12 Income Taxes. Deferred tax assets are recognised to the extent that it is probable that taxable profits will be available against which deductible temporary differences can be utilised. Such assets and liabilities are not recognised if the temporary difference arises from the initial recognition of goodwill or other assets and liabilities (other than in a business combination) in a transaction that affects neither the tax profit nor the accounting profit.

The carrying amount of deferred tax assets is reviewed at each balance sheet date and reduced to the extent that it is no longer probable that sufficient taxable profits will be available to allow all or part of the asset to be recovered.

Deferred tax liabilities are recognised for taxable temporary differences arising on investments in subsidiaries and associates, and interests in joint ventures, except where the Group is able to control the reversal of the temporary difference and it is probable that the temporary difference will not reverse in the foreseeable future.

Deferred tax assets and liabilities are offset when there is a legally enforceable right to set off current tax assets against current tax liabilities and when they relate to income taxes levied by the same taxation authority and the Group intends to settle its current tax assets and liabilities on a net basis.

Deferred tax is calculated at the tax rates that are expected to apply in the period when the liability is settled or the asset is realised based on enacted or substantively enacted legislation. Deferred tax is charged or credited in the consolidated income statement, except when it relates to items charged or credited directly to equity, in which case the deferred tax is also dealt with in equity.

Retirement benefit costs

For defined contribution plans, contributions are charged to the consolidated income statement as payable in respect of the accounting period.

For defined benefit plans the amounts charged to operating profit are the current service costs and gains and losses on settlements and curtailments. They are included as part of staff costs. Past service costs are recognised immediately in the consolidated income statement if the benefits have vested. If the benefits have not vested, the costs are recognised over the period until vesting occurs. The interest cost and the expected return on assets are shown within finance costs and finance income respectively. Actuarial gains and losses are recognised immediately in the statement of comprehensive income.

Where defined benefit plans are funded, the assets of the plan are held separately from those of the Group, in separate trustee-administered funds. Pension plan assets are measured at fair value and liabilities are measured on an actuarial basis using the projected unit method and discounted at a rate equivalent to the current rate of return on a high-quality corporate bond of equivalent currency and term to the plan liabilities. The actuarial valuations are obtained at least triennially and are updated at each balance sheet date.

Recognition of a surplus in a defined benefit plan is limited based on the economic gain the company is expected to benefit from in the future by means of a refund or reduction in future contributions to the plan, in accordance with IAS 19 Employee Benefits.

Finance leases

Assets held under finance leases are recognised as assets of the Group at the inception of the lease at the lower of their fair value and the present value of the minimum lease payments. Depreciation on leased assets is charged to the consolidated income statement on the same basis as owned assets. Leasing payments are treated as consisting of capital and interest elements and the interest is charged to the consolidated income statement as it is incurred.

Operating leases

Operating lease rentals are charged to the consolidated income statement on a straight-line basis over the lease term. Any premium or discount on the acquisition of a lease is spread over the life of the lease on a straight-line basis.

Translation of foreign currencies

Foreign currency transactions arising from normal trading activities are recorded at the rates in effect at the date of the transaction. Monetary assets and liabilities denominated in foreign currencies at the year end are translated at the year-end exchange rate. Foreign currency gains and losses are credited or charged to the consolidated income statement as they arise.

The income statements of overseas subsidiary undertakings are translated into pounds sterling at average exchange rates and the year-end net assets of these companies are translated at year-end exchange rates.

Exchange differences arising from retranslation of the opening net assets and on foreign currency borrowings (to the extent that they hedge the Group’s investment in such operations) are reported in the consolidated statement of comprehensive income.

Goodwill and fair value adjustments arising on the acquisition of a foreign entity are treated as assets and liabilities of the foreign entity and translated at the closing rate.

Share-based payments

The Group issues equity-settled share-based payments (including share options) to certain employees and accounts for these awards in accordance with IFRS 2 (Share-Based Payment). Equity-settled share-based payments are measured at fair value (excluding the effect of non-market-based vesting conditions) at the date of grant. Details regarding the fair value of equity settled share-based transactions are set out in notes 22 and 26.

The fair value determined at the grant date is recognised in the consolidated income statement as an expense on a straight-line basis over the relevant vesting period, based on the Group’s estimate of the number of shares that will ultimately vest and adjusted for the effect of non-market-based vesting conditions.

New IFRS accounting pronouncements

At the date of authorisation of these financial statements, the following Standards and Interpretations, which have not been applied in these financial statements, were in issue but not yet effective:

  • IFRIC 14 (amended)/IAS 19 (amended): The Limit on a Defined Benefit Asset, Minimum Funding Requirements and their Interaction;
  • IFRIC 19 Extinguishing Financial Liabilities with Equity Instruments;
  • IFRS 7 (amended): Financial Instruments: Disclosure;
  • IFRS 9 Financial Instruments;
  • IAS 1 (amended): Presentation of Financial Statements;
  • IAS 12 (amended): Income Taxes;
  • IAS 24 (revised): Related Party Transactions;
  • IAS 32 (amended): Classification of Rights Issues.

The Group does not consider that these Standards and Interpretations will have a significant impact on the financial statements of the Group except for additional disclosures when the relevant standards come into effect for periods commencing on or after 1 January 2011.

In the current year IFRS 2 (amended) Share-Based Payment became effective. The adoption of this Standard has not led to any changes in the Group’s accounting policies.

The Group adopted IFRS 3 (revised) Business Combinations and IAS 27 (revised) Consolidated and Separate Financial Statements during the year. The revisions to these standards applied to business combinations completed after 1 January 2010. The main impact of these revised standards was as follows:

  • In the year to 31 December 2010, all acquisition-related costs have been recognised as an operating cost in the consolidated income statement whereas previously they were capitalised. Prior periods have not been restated as this change in accounting is required to be applied prospectively from 1 January 2010;
  • The term ‘minority interest’ has been changed to ‘non-controlling interest’;
  • Contingent consideration payable is to be measured at fair value at the acquisition date. Any subsequent movements in the fair value of such consideration as a result of post-acquisition events must be recognised as a gain or loss in the consolidated income statement;
  • Equity interests held prior to control being obtained are re-measured to fair value at the acquisition date, with any resulting gain or loss recognised in the consolidated income statement. The Group excludes such gains or losses from headline profits;
  • Changes in ownership interest in a subsidiary that does not result in a change of control are treated as transactions among equity holders and are reported within equity shareowners’ funds. No gain or loss is recognised on such transactions and goodwill is not re-measured; and
  • Cash consideration for non-controlling interests is classified as a financing activity rather than an investing activity in the consolidated cash flow statement. Prior periods have been restated accordingly as this change in disclosure is required to be applied retrospectively.

Critical judgements in applying accounting policies

Management is required to make key decisions and judgements in the process of applying the Group’s accounting policies. The most significant areas where such judgements have been necessary are revenue recognition, goodwill and other intangibles, acquisition reserves, taxation and accounting for pension liabilities. Where judgement has been applied, the key factors taken into consideration are disclosed in the accounting policies and the appropriate note in these financial statements.

Directors’ responsibility statement

We confirm that to the best of our knowledge:

  • the financial statements, prepared in accordance with the applicable set of accounting standards, give a true and fair view of the assets, liabilities, financial position and profit or loss of the Company and the undertakings included in the consolidation taken as a whole; and
  • the management report, which is incorporated into the Directors’ report, includes a fair review of the development and performance of the business and the position of the Company and the undertakings included in the consolidation taken as a whole, together with a description of the principal risks and uncertainties they face.