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The outlook for 2011

The world continues to move at very different speeds, both geographically and functionally. By means of explanation, perhaps an English football analogy is helpful. First, the Premier League which consists of the BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India and China) and the Next 11 (Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran (?), Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, South Korea, Turkey, Vietnam) or CIVETS (Colombia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Egypt (still included), Turkey, South Africa), along with new media (personal computer-driven, mobile, video content, social networks). Second, The Championship, the US, because of its size, immigrant, entrepreneurial culture and human and natural resources, along with an economically well-run and high value-added manufacturing export-led Germany and free-to-air television. Third, League One, Western Europe, primarily the UK, France, Italy and Spain, along with newspapers and magazines. Last, League Two, (sadly, particularly given the recent terrible events) Japan which has been stagnant for almost 20 years. Perhaps the UK, with its Coalition Government’s emphasis on deficit reduction and long-term growth will gain promotion to The Championship?

In any event, the Group’s strategic focus on new markets, new media and consumer insight reflects these differing market dynamics and account respectively for 27%, 29% and 26% of the Group’s revenues of over $14 billion.

2011 like-for-like revenue growth looks as though it should be similar to how 2010 actually turned out, as long as we have our budgets right. The final budget figures indicate continued growth of 5% over last year’s actual numbers. Budget optimism in 2009 was replaced by pessimism in 2010. Perhaps the 2011 budgets will finally reflect realism.

However, the pattern of revenue growth looks as though it will be slightly different, with the balance of growth shifting from the West to the East to China and India, to the South to Brazil and Latin America and to the South-East to Africa and, functionally, to media investment management, digital media and data analytics and the application of technology. The shift to the East applies even in Europe itself, as the strong man of Europe, Germany, forms a strong axis with Poland, relatively untouched by the recession, and Russia, blessed with vast, increasingly valuable energy resources (as long as they invest the proceeds wisely).

Clients seem to be increasingly focused on expansion in the faster-growing markets and cost containment and caution in the West. So far this strategy has paid off, with corporate profitability at record highs. Worries remain around euro-contagion and the lack of willingness, at least in front of a US Presidential election in 2012, to tackle US deficit reduction. Additional concerns have also developed in recent months over events in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Libya and Yemen and the implications for other countries, such as Jordan or Saudi Arabia, and the shocking human catastrophes in Japan surrounding the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis. We have to admire the phlegmatic, stoical and disciplined response of the Japanese people to these bitterly unfair events. As we write there is news of another significant earthquake in Japan of over 7 on the Richter scale. As a point of reference, the Middle East accounts for about 1.7% or $300 million of our approximately $16 billion of revenues forecast by analysts and Japan about 1.5% or $200 million. However, despite these concerns and commodity price inflation and high levels of unemployment, particularly amongst the youth, forecasts for global GDP growth in 2011 remain around 4% and media growth forecasts, including by our own GroupM, around the same level or even greater, as advertising and marketing spending picks up from depressed levels in mature markets and grows aggressively in relatively under-advertised, faster-growth markets – almost a double-whammy.

Incentive plans for 2011 will place increased emphasis on revenue growth and improvement in operating margins in conjunction with operating profit growth, although objectives will continue to include qualitative Group objectives, including co-ordination and co-operation, talent management and succession planning.

At the time of writing, we have revenue and profit data for the first two months of 2011. The strong finish to 2010 has continued into 2011, with like-for-like revenue and gross margin for the first two months of the year both up over 7%. Geographically, we are seeing stronger growth in both Asia and Latin America and the US remaining strong. By sector, Advertising and Media Investment Management also remain strong with our direct, digital and interactive businesses also well up and Consumer Insight up too. These trends are broadly in line with our budgets, which also indicate a stronger first half, understandable given easier 2010 first-half comparatives and our usual quarter four conservative budget. Operating profits were in line with budget and well up on last year.

Prospects for 2012 also feel good, particularly as the US Presidential election, the well-organised London Olympics and the UEFA European Football Championships should add 1-2% to global advertising and marketing growth rates, as usual in a maxi-quadrennial year. The problems may well come, however, in 2013 or late 2012, as the newly re-elected or elected American President wrestles with a ballooning deficit – unless the bond markets lose patience before then. At least one major US institution has lost patience already.