Mark Read has warned against "collapsing" too many WPP agency brands and said driving greater collaboration is more important than a "major restructuring".
Read, the joint chief operating officer of WPP, said in an interview with Campaign at the start of Cannes Lions that he welcomed the fact that this year’s ad festival is "shorter" and "more focused", describing it as "a fresh start", but he dismissed suggestions that WPP itself needs to be smaller.
Asked if, for example, WPP still needs four creative agency networks, Ogilvy, JWT, Grey and Y&R, Read said: "I don’t think WPP needs to be smaller. We need to be simpler to navigate [for clients].
WPP, the world's biggest ad agency group, has told investors it plans to sell minority stakes in some businesses and will consider asset sales and it has spent the past year merging some agencies.
However, Read said: "I don’t think we’re going to go through an exercise of major restructuring of the businesses."
Read, a candidate to be chief executive following the exit of Sir Martin Sorrell, went on: "My focus would rather be on how can we work together, how we have more common incentives, how we create a collaborative culture, how we make it easier to work together across companies, rather than necessarily collapsing them.
"In my experience, collapsing things in our business, means collapsing them [with negative consequences]."
WPP has struggled in the last year as consumer goods companies have cut spend and its share price has fallen by a third, but Read maintained the ad industry was "in a time of structural change, not structural decline".
He went on: "The same could be said for Cannes in a way. The festival is shorter, more focused, fewer entries – hopefully better entries. There’s no sign of any fewer clients coming."
Read described the last eight weeks – which have included a media storm over claims of personal misconduct against Sorrell and an annual shareholder meeting when nearly 30% of investors failed to back a £20m pay-off for the former chief executive – as "eventful".
Read said: "What I’m enjoying is spending time with our teams and our clients. What I’ve heard from clients – and what has reassured me – is a desire to keep working with our teams and WPP."
Advertising is "a business where the best work comes out of partnerships", he added.
Asked if he has had contact with Sorrell, who had no non-compete clause and has already set up a new business, S4 Capital, Read said: "I’m sure he’s getting on fine."
Sorrell intends to speak at Cannes later this week despite recent media scrutiny.
Roberto Quarta, the executive chairman of WPP, who is leading the search for Sorrell’s replacement, is also in Cannes.
Quarta gave a hint to shareholders at last week’s AGM that the new chief executive is likely to come from the advertising and marketing world.
In addition to having a track record of strong leadership, global management experience and tech savvy, Quarta said the successful candidate would have "knowledge of the industry from different perspectives" and "should be great with clients".