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Our six specific objectives

Here are six objectives which represent our key performance indicators (KPIs). For an assessment of how we performed against them in 2010, read on.

1 Continue to raise operating margins to the levels of
    the best-performing competition.

1First, to continue to raise operating margins to the levels of the best-performing competition. We achieved 15% for two consecutive years, in 2007 and 2008. We continue to believe a margin of 18.3% is a tough, but realistic objective. BBDO, Dentsu and McCann have achieved this in the past, although the pressure became too great in some instances. It may well be that gross margin margin is a more accurate competitive comparison.

Headline operating margins vs peers
1
Based on headline operating profit as defined in the Financial glossary, excluding share of results of associates, and sourced from relevant public filings, adjusted to a comparable basis to WPP.
2
Gross margin margin is defined as headline PBIT as a proportion of gross margin.

2 Continue to increase flexibility in the cost structure.

2Second, to continue to increase flexibility in the cost structure. Great strides have been made in recent years. In 2010, variable staff costs made up 7.8% of revenues, the highest ratio for 10 years. This compares with 6.6% in 2008 and 5.7% in 2009, and illustrates the value of this flexibility in protecting margins in the event of an economic downturn.

change in variable costs

3 Improve total share owner return and return on
    capital.

3Third, to improve total share owner return by maximising the return on investment on the Company’s substantial free cash flow (of over £900 million or around $1.4 billion). There are broadly three alternative uses of funds:

  • Capital expenditure, which usually approximates the depreciation cost. Pressure here has eased as technology pricing has fallen, although we are increasing investment in our digital and technology-based service offering, in line with our strategic goals. In 2009, we also invested significantly more in real estate following lease renewals, particularly in New York, to secure greater efficiencies.
  • Mergers and acquisitions, which have historically taken the lion’s share of free cash flow. Here we have raised the hurdle rate on capital employed so that our return on capital may be increased. Valuations remain reasonable, particularly outside the US, although some speculative froth does seem to have developed, especially in digital and interactive in the US and in some faster-growing markets, like Brazil, as our competitors try to play catch-up.

Our acquisition focus in 2010 was again on the triplet opportunities of faster-growing geographic markets, new technologies and consumer insights, totally consistent with our strategic priorities in the areas of geography, new communication services and measurability.

The cost of the acquisition of TNS in 2008 was funded principally by debt. At the time of the transaction, we announced that, for the following two years, acquisitions would be limited to no more than £100 million per annum, the Group’s share buy-back program would be targeted up to 1% per annum and dividend growth at up to 15% per annum, with the objective of using surplus cash generated to reduce debt, whilst average net debt to headline EBITDA remained well above 2 times. For 2010, this ratio improved to 2.1 times so this objective has been largely achieved one year ahead of schedule.

In 2010, the Group spent £97 million on initial acquisition payments, net of cash acquired and disposal proceeds, so within the target set. It is likely we will continue to focus on small and medium-sized acquisitions in 2011 but at a slightly greater level, around £150-200 million.

  • Dividends or share buy-backs. We continue to focus on examining the relative merits of dividends and share buybacks.

Following the strong first half results in 2010, we re-instituted an increase in dividend with a 15% increase in the first interim dividend, the upper limit committed to at the time of the TNS acquisition. Following the continued improvement in profitability during the second half of 2010, the Board has also recommended an increase in the second interim dividend of 15%. This makes a total for the year of 17.79p per share, an all-time high for your Company. Dividends paid in 2010 were 3.6 times covered by headline earnings.

Subject to share owner approval at the Company’s General Meeting in June 2011, the Board also proposes to put in place a scrip dividend program which will enable share owners to elect to receive new fully paid ordinary shares in the Company instead of cash dividends, commencing with the second interim dividend for 2010. Details of the scrip dividend program will be sent to share owners together with the Notice of the Company’s Annual General Meeting. The Board has also undertaken a review of its dividend pay-out policy and consulted institutional share owners and analysts. It seems clear from this analysis that in current stock market conditions, many share owners favour consistent dividend growth and better dividend yields over share re-purchases. Given these views, the Board plans to increase the dividend payout ratio as a proportion of post-tax profits from the current level of approximately 30% to approximately 40% over the medium term, reducing dividend cover from approximately 3 times headline earnings to approximately 2.5 times.

Share buy-backs in 2010 cost £46 million, representing 0.5% of share capital, again well within the target set at the time of the TNS acquisition. It is likely that we will continue to ensure that share buy-backs at least equal the dilutive effect of option and restricted stock issuance.

distribution to share owners
1
Sum of share buy-backs and dividends paid divided by average shares in issue for the relevant period, as a % of the average share price for the relevant period.

4 Continue to enhance the value added by the parent
    company.

4Fourth, we will continue to enhance the value added by the parent company and build unique integrated marketing approaches for clients. WPP is not just a holding company focused on planning, budgeting, reporting and financial issues, but a parent company that can add value to our clients and our people in the areas of human resources, property, procurement, information technology and practice development. We will continue to do this through a limited group of 350 or so people at the centre in Dublin, London, New York, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Shanghai and São Paulo. This does not mean that we seek to diminish the strength of our operating brands, but rather to learn from one another. Our objective is to maximise the added value for our clients with their businesses and our people with their careers.

Many of our initiatives are possible because of the scale on which we now operate. In the optimum use of property, in information technology and in procurement generally, we are able to achieve efficiencies that would be beyond the reach of any individual operating company.

But it is also clear that there is an increasing requirement for the centre to complement the operating companies in professional development and client co-ordination. It is a relatively recent development for certain multinational marketing companies, when looking to satisfy their global communications needs, to make their initial approach not to operating companies, but directly to holding or parent companies.

Such assignments present major, and increasingly frequent, opportunities for the few groups of our size. It is absolutely essential that we have the professional resources and the practice development capability to serve such clients comprehensively, actively and creatively. Initiatives involving some of the world’s largest marketers continue to gain momentum. The world’s largest advertiser is itself integrating its efforts around brands, in the areas of advertising, media investment management, market research, packaging design and public relations. Our largest client is seeking a seamless model, effectively a one-client agency within our Group.

All our clients, whether global, multinational or local, continue to focus on the quality of our thinking, co-ordination of communications and price. In response, we focus on talent, structure and incentives.

Managing talent

Talent and its management therefore remain the lynchpin of our reason for existence: that is what our clients pay us for. Development of our people and the way we manage that talent is a critical determinant of performance and on that critical dimension, we continue to make significant progress.

In the creation of highly-competitive incentives with extremely attractive working environments, we increasingly differentiate ourselves from our competitors and improve the attractiveness of WPP companies as destinations for talent. Our quarterly reviews with the operating companies have been restructured, consequently, to give more time and attention to talent and to clients. Our recruiting efforts throughout 2010 were especially fruitful as we successfully targeted and recruited top talent within and beyond our industry, often competing with investment banking, management consulting and private equity offers. The war for talent is fierce and will intensify further, and there is more to be done.

The blueprint for our executive development curriculum has been completed, and our flagship client leadership training program, Maestro, is being continuously developed. The parent company and each of our operating companies installed its own approach to performance assessment and succession planning, aimed at developing the careers of their people, improving the quality of feedback, coaching and mentoring they receive and providing for orderly succession. We have launched a senior management mentoring and development program specifically for women, run by Charlotte Beers and called 'The X Factor'.

We continued to scrutinise and modify our compensation practices, both to offer competitive and appropriately-based rewards to our people and to attract outstanding talent from elsewhere. This is a key strategic priority for us. Our competition is, sometimes, not so rigorous in evaluating and rewarding performance – for example, taking advantage of sharp falls in share prices to re-price or issue options or giving limited disclosure to investors of compensation plan details.

Communications

A communications services company must be a model of excellent external and internal communications. To that end, we accelerate understanding of the Group’s vast resources with a raft of regular communications through our websites and social media channels and in print: our monthly public online news bulletin, e.wire; our consistently-awarded global newspaper and eBook, The WIRE; our annual Atticus Journal of original marketing thinking; the WPP Reading Room, an extensive online library of think pieces (both public and original) from WPP professionals worldwide; our online Fact Files profiling Group resources/companies/products; regular communication on Group initiatives such as the WPP Worldwide Partnership Program and the Marketing Fellowship Program; our annual Corporate Responsibility Report and this consistently award-winning Annual Report, both in print and online.

Property management

In 2010 we were able to reduce our property portfolio by almost 4% to 22.8 million sq ft as a result of shedding excess space created by the integration of the custom business of TNS with Research International and, sadly, as a result of the severance program that saw our staff numbers decline by over 12% in 2009.

The combination of revenue growth and reduction in portfolio enabled us to reduce the establishment cost-to-revenue ratio from 8.0% in 2009 to 7.0% in 2010, equal to our medium-term goal. Average square foot per head fell slightly to 229 sq ft from 230 sq ft in 2009, although our target is to achieve 220 sq ft in 2011.

Our key property task is to maintain the 7% establishment cost-to-revenue ratio as we continue to grow the business, by focusing on the key metrics of space per head and cost per square foot on all our lease renewals.

Procurement

In procurement, we continue to set ourselves the goal of being the undisputed leader of procurement practice in the global advertising and marketing services industry.

We aim to benchmark ourselves regularly against our competitors and our clients. Through intensified investment in procurement people, processes and technology, our goal is to maintain the ratio of bought-in costs to revenue at around 15%, by leveraging Group scale across all of our major markets, and focusing on those expenditure categories most favourable for global, regional and local supply contracts, such as in IT, telecoms, travel, professional services, facilities and production.

Information technology

In IT we continue to consolidate our core technology infrastructure with the objectives of reducing cost and improving quality. This enables our operating companies to concentrate their efforts on client-related developments and other internal business-focused applications.

The convergence of mobile, voice and data communications has allowed us to take advantage of new offerings in the telecommunications sector to increase efficiencies and to provide enhanced support to our increasingly mobile workforce.

Practice development

Finally, in practice development we continue to develop horizontal initiatives in a focused set of high-potential areas across our vertical operating brands: in media, healthcare, new technologies, new faster-growing markets, internal communications, retail, entertainment and media, financial services, hi-tech and telecommunications and corporate responsibility. Specifically, we continue to invest in sharing insights and developing initiatives through WPP Digital (in digital marketing and media) and The Store (in distribution and retail).

In key geographic markets we are increasingly coordinating our activities through WPP Country Managers. We continue to believe that increasing co-ordination is required between our brands at the country and global levels, as the arguments for investment in regional management become weaker. As experience has demonstrated, however, the activities of Country Managers must be closely aligned and monitored. In addition, we have increased the number of WPP Global Client Leaders to co-ordinate our efforts on behalf of clients and to ensure they get maximum benefit from their relationships with WPP operating brands. We are focused currently on our top 30 global clients accounting for around a third of total revenues and where our revenues grew by 7.0% in 2010, a higher rate than the overall increase of 5.3%.

Furthermore, we continue to encourage internal strategic alliances and promote co-operation. Practice development initiatives have therefore been reinforced in such areas as healthcare, retail, internal communications and media and entertainment. This has been especially important in developing our portfolio of direct investments in new media under WPP Digital and where our investments are working with our agencies and people to bring new technology capabilities and understanding to our clients. All these initiatives are designed to ensure that we, the parent company, really do (as well as being perceived to) inspire, motivate, coach, encourage, support and incentivise our operating companies to achieve their strategic and operational goals.

5 Continue to place greater emphasis on revenue
    growth.

5Fifth, to continue to place greater emphasis on revenue growth. One legitimate criticism of our performance against the best-performing competition is our comparative level of organic revenue growth, although the methods used to calculate rates of organic growth 'vary' to say the least. In 2008, revenue growth trailed a little behind our major competitors and, in 2009, the decline in our revenue was less worse than most. In 2010, our growth was strong, but also for some of our major competitors. In all years, however, our margin performance was at the top end of the pack.

Estimated net new billings of £3.0 billion ($4.8 billion) in 2010, a similar level to 2009, reflected a consistently high level of wins throughout the year. The Group was ranked first in all the new business league table surveys in 2010.

Chart showing organic revenue growth vs peer as percentage

Our practice development activities are also aimed at helping us position our portfolio in the faster-growing functional and geographic areas. During 2010, acquisitions and increased equity stakes were focused on Advertising and Media Investment Management in Canada, the UK, France, Germany, Poland, Israel, Brazil, Colombia, Hong Kong, India and South Korea; on Consumer Insight in Poland, Hungary, Cyprus, Chile and Guatemala; on Public Relations & Public Affairs in the UK, Germany, Poland and Turkey; on direct, digital and interactive in the US, the UK, Germany, Brazil, China and Singapore; and on Healthcare Communications in the US, the UK and the Czech Republic.

So far in 2011, the Group has made acquisitions or increased equity interests in Advertising and Media Investment Management in South Africa and South Korea; in Consumer Insight in Ireland, Germany, Lithuania and Africa; and in direct, digital and interactive in the US. These acquisitions continue to move us forward to our previously described strategic priorities; expanding the share of revenues of our businesses in Asia Pacific, Latin America, Africa and the Middle East and Central and Eastern Europe to 35-40%; in new media to 35-40%; and in consumer insight, direct, digital and interactive, at one-half.

We intend to expand our strong networks – Ogilvy & Mather, JWT, Y&R, Grey, United Network, Bates 141, Mindshare, MEC, MediaCom, Maxus, TNS, Millward Brown, Kantar Media, Kantar Health, Kantar Retail, Kantar Worldpanel, Hill & Knowlton, Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide, Burson-Marsteller, Cohn & Wolfe, OgilvyOne, Wunderman, OgilvyAction, G2, Possible Worldwide, 24/7 Real Media, Ogilvy CommonHealth, Sudler & Hennessey, ghg, The Brand Union, Landor and FITCH – in high-growth markets or where their market share is insufficient.

We will also enhance our leadership position in Consumer Insight by further development of our key brands with particular emphasis on North America, Asia Pacific, Latin America and Continental and Eastern Europe. We will continue our growth of research panels and have established a Kantar-wide operational capability, which will be consolidated with the same function at TNS. We will reinforce our growing position in media research through Kantar Media, which includes our investments in television audience research through the former TNS Media Intelligence and TNS Media Research, and IBOPE and Marktest, which, combined, is the market leader outside North America.

In addition, we intend to reinforce our worldwide strength in direct and interactive marketing and research through our traditional channels such as OgilvyOne, Wunderman, G2, Blanc & Otus and Lightspeed. Although the early 2000-2001 compressions in financial valuations following the internet bust initially offered significant opportunities, we will now also invest directly in the new channels through start-ups, particularly as US and French valuations in search, for example, are still prohibitive, despite the financial crisis. Other opportunities will be sought to enhance our online capabilities.

Lastly, we will continue to develop our specialist expertise in areas such as healthcare, retail and interactive and to identify new high-growth areas.

6 Improve still further the quality of our creative
    output.

Creativity remains paramount

6Sixth, to improve still further the quality of creative work throughout the Group. Despite the growing importance of co-ordinated communications and price effectiveness, the quality of the work remains and will remain paramount. If you drew a graph plotting creative awards (as a proxy for creativity) against margins for any group of agencies, there would be a very strong correlation. The more awards, the stronger the margins. The client’s procurement department fades into the background when the work is strong. Of the three things we do – strategic thinking, creative execution and co-ordination – creative execution is undoubtedly the most important, and that means creativity in its broadest sense.

Clients look for creative thinking and output not just from advertising agencies, public relations and design companies, but also from our media companies and our research companies. Millward Brown remains arguably one of our most creative brands. Witness the BrandZ Top 100 Most Powerful Brands Study published annually with the Financial Times and its study of the BrandZTop 50 Most Valuable Chinese Brands.

We intend to achieve this objective by stepping up our training and development programs; by recruiting the finest external talent; by celebrating and rewarding outstanding creative success tangibly and intangibly; by acquiring strong creative companies; and by encouraging, monitoring and promoting our companies’ achievements in winning creative awards.

In pursuing these aims, the Group is led by John O’Keeffe, WPP’s worldwide creative director. Under John’s guidance, gratifying and discernible progress continues.

2010 saw the fourth annual WPPED Cream awards, our internal award program for outstanding work across the Group. Your Company also amassed the second largest points tally at the 2010 advertising and marketing services festival in Cannes for the second year in a row and narrowed the gap to first place (please refer to our website, www.wpp.com, for detailed, accurate calculations). Our objective is to achieve first place. Our performance in the Gunn Report, even on an accurately calculated weighted basis, is as strong.

At the same time we are committed to achieving all these objectives as a significantly responsible corporate citizen of the world at large and in the communities in which we operate.

As a parent company, we continue to develop practical principles and policies for our companies’ charitable giving and services to the environment, education, the arts and healthcare based on best practice guidelines. We conservatively calculate that the WPP organisation contributed an estimated £14.3 million worth of time, skills, materials and money to social and community causes in 2010, as well as free media space worth £20.2 million negotiated by WPP media agencies on behalf of pro bono clients, making a total of £34.5 million. A summary of the Group’s approach to corporate responsibility can be found here. Doing good is not altruism or charity, it is good business, when like us you are focused on long-term total share owner return.

Please also see our annual Corporate Responsibility Report on the work our clients and our people do in these increasingly important areas.