2020 Preliminary Results

11 Mar 2021

Resilient performance: further recovery in Q4; net debt down to £0.7 billion; share buyback to start immediately. Well positioned to grow in 2021, in line with guidance

Key figures – continuing operations

£ million 2020
+/(-)% reported1 +/(-)% LFL2 2019 
Revenue 12,003 (9.3)
Revenue less pass-through costs 9,762 (10.0)
Operating (loss)/profit (2,278) n/m3
- 1,296
(Loss)/profit before tax (2,791) n/m
- 1,2144
Diluted EPS (p) (243.2) n/m
- 68.24
Dividends per share (p) 24.0 5.7
- 22.7
Operating profit  1,261 (19.2)
Operating profit margin  12.9% (1.5)pt*
Profit before tax  1,041 (23.6)
- 1,363
Diluted EPS (p)
59.9 (23.3)
- 78.1

* Margin points

Full year and Q4 financial highlights

  • FY continuing operations reported revenue -9.3%, LFL revenue -7.3%
  • FY LFL revenue less pass-through costs -8.2%; sequential recovery since initial lockdowns: Q2 -15.1%, Q3 -7.6%, Q4 -6.5%
  • Q4 LFL revenue less pass-through costs by major market: US -6.2%, UK -7.4%, Germany -0.8%, Greater China -12.1%, India -8.9%
  • FY headline operating margin 12.9%, down 1.5pt on prior year as cost savings of over £800 million offset the majority of the revenue decline; H2 headline operating margin +0.5pt
  • Reported loss before tax impacted by £3.1 billion of impairments (£2.8 billion goodwill, £0.3 billion investment and other write-downs)
  • Net debt at 31 December 2020 £0.7 billion, better than expected and down £0.8 billion year-on-year, reflecting continued strong working capital and cash management

Strategic progress, shareholder returns and 2021 guidance

  • Transformation delivering results: VMLY&R +2.9% in Q4
  • Continued focus on simplification: alignment of Grey with AKQA, Geometry with VMLY&R
  • Offer resonating with clients: market-leading $4.4 billion6 of net new business won ($7.3 billion gross)
  • Continued recognition of creativity and effectiveness: Effies winner for ninth successive year; Cannes Lions Agency Holding Company of the Decade
  • Final dividend of 14.0p per share proposed, in line with new dividend policy
  • £620 million Kantar share buyback to resume immediately: up to £300 million to be completed over the next three months
  • 2021 outlook in line with guidance provided in December 2020: LFL revenue less pass-through costs growth of mid-single-digits %, with headline operating margin of 13.5-14.0%

Mark Read, Chief Executive Officer of WPP, said:

“2020 was a tough year for everyone, including our people who faced the personal and professional challenges of COVID-19. Their commitment to our clients, support for one another and contribution to the communities we serve have been a constant source of inspiration and pride.

“WPP’s performance has been remarkably resilient, thanks to these efforts and the demonstrable value of what we do for our clients. While revenue was significantly impacted as clients reduced spending, our performance exceeded our own expectations and those of the market throughout the year. There is no doubt that the actions we took during the previous two years to transform and simplify the business and reduce debt – to a 16-year low at the end of 2020 – played a crucial role in the strength of our response.

“At the height of the pandemic we saw five years’ worth of innovation in five weeks, with a dramatic shift to digital media and ecommerce as people’s lives went online – trends on which we based our vision for WPP. Having modernised our client offer, refined our structure and strengthened our agency brands, we were well prepared for this shift and saw the benefits of this acceleration in parts of our business. Our strategic progress was also evident in our very strong new business performance, with key wins including Alibaba, HSBC, Intel, Uber and Unilever.

“In December 2020, we outlined our plans to continue to transform our business, to accelerate our growth and to put purpose at the heart of what we do. We see many areas of attractive growth for WPP, from the permanent shift to ecommerce, the digitisation of media and the need from our clients to convert brand purpose into action. The past 12 months have demonstrated the importance and impact of communications. The demand from clients for simple, integrated solutions that combine outstanding creativity with sophisticated data and technology capability is only set to grow and, while uncertainties remain around the impact of the vaccine roll-out and economic growth, we continue to expect 2021 to be a year of solid recovery.”

WPP 2020 Preliminary Results press release PDF 835.2 KB


  1. Percentage change in reported sterling.
  2. Like-for-like. LFL comparisons are calculated as follows: current year, constant currency actual results (which include acquisitions from the relevant date of completion) are compared with prior year, constant currency actual results, adjusted to reflect the results of acquisitions and disposals for the commensurate period in the prior year.
  3. Not meaningful.
  4. Restated, as set out in note 2 of Appendix 1.
  5. In this press release not all of the figures and ratios used are readily available from the unaudited preliminary results included in Appendix 1. Management believes these non-GAAP measures, including constant currency and like-for-like growth, revenue less pass-through costs and headline profit measures, are both useful and necessary to better understand the Group’s results. Where required, details of how these have been arrived at are shown in Appendix 2.
  6. Billings, as defined in the glossary on page 51.


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