Beau Jackson
Feb 28, 2024

Karen Blackett to leave WPP after 29 years

Karen Blackett has played a pivotal role in WPP's history.

Blackett joined the agencies that would later form Group M in 1995.
Blackett joined the agencies that would later form Group M in 1995.

Karen Blackett, president of WPP in the UK, is set to leave Britain’s biggest agency group after 29 years this summer to pursue external interests and new opportunities.

An influential figure in WPP’s history, Blackett first joined The Media Business, which subsequently became MediaCom (now part of EssenceMediacom) in the early 90s and grew to be Britain’s biggest media agency by billings.

After a spell as chief operating officer of MediaCom EMEA, she rose to be UK CEO of MediaCom between 2011 and 2015, and was made chairperson in 2016, winning and retaining some of Britain’s biggest clients including Tesco and Sky.

In that time, MediaCom was crowned Campaign’s Media Agency of the Decade for a consistent record of excellence across new business wins and retention, award-winning work and its culture.

In 2018, Blackett became WPP’s first UK country manager, and the UK CEO of Group M in 2020, helping to guide the business through the pandemic, undertaking a group-level restructure to simplify clients’ access to media services and playing a central role in the group’s response to the murder of George Floyd and its global repercussions.

She was promoted to her current role of UK president in 2022 as part of the parent company’s ongoing efforts to simplify and integrate operations. 

WPP CEO Mark Read thanked Blackett for her considerable contribution to WPP. 

He said: “Karen has continually been a positive force for change in our industry and her commitment and unwavering loyalty to WPP and our clients have benefited the company in many ways. 

“She has always championed diversity of talent as the driver of creativity and growth, and has acted as a beacon for new talent, many of whom are key leaders across our agencies and the industry today. 

“On behalf of everyone at WPP, I would like to thank Karen for her incredible contribution and wish her the very best in her future endeavours.”

Blackett said: “I will miss our brilliant people in our agencies, our clients and the creativity of our teams. I am always on a growth journey, and the time is right to pursue this outside of WPP.

“There is no doubt 2024 will be a pivotal year for the UK and US, and I am looking forward to what comes next.” 

There was no word on what Blackett plans to do next after choosing to leave WPP, but she is known for her high-level political contacts and was appointed the UK government's first race equality champion in 2018.

WPP’s UK operation has grown strongly in recent years, with revenues rising 5.6% in 2023 and 7.6% in 2022. However, the agency group has warned of a slowdown globally, with revenues rising only 0.9% around the world last year.

WPP said it had nothing to add at this time about whether it planned to appoint a successor to Blackett.

An influential advocate for equality, Blackett has been outspoken about the challenges and opportunities of improving diversity and inclusivity in business and became the first business woman to top the Powerlist 100, which champions the most influential black people in Britain, in 2014. She was awarded an OBE in the same year.

She is also a founding trustee of the Black Equity Organisation, an independent civil rights organisation aimed at advancing justice and equity for black people and communities in Britain, and a non-executive director of Diageo.

Blackett started at CIA MediaNetwork, which was later bought by WPP and is now part of Wavemaker, and worked at Zenith Media as a planner and buyer, before joining The Media Business.

In a post on LinkedIn announcing her departure from WPP, she wrote: “I genuinely hope that as I wave goodbye for now, I have made a difference and that the industry continues to flex and change for the better. Some much needed time out is on the cards for now, but… I’ll be back.”

Source:
Campaign UK

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