A look back at the mergers and acquisitions that created WPP

Lindsay Bennett
By Lindsay Bennett | 1 October 2018

During the last 30 years WPP has grown to become the world’s largest advertising group and through a slew of acquisitions, has greatly impacted what the agency landscape looks like today.

WPP rose to fame under former boss Martin Sorrell who led the acquisitions of some of the world’s most notable agencies, including Ogilvy in 1989 and JWT in 1987. Sorrell quickly carved out a name for himself as a fierce businessman, particularly with its multimillion-dollar acquisition of Ogilvy.

Infamously, David Ogilvy called Sorrell an “odious little jerk” after the hostile Ogilvy takeover.

While in recent years WPP has begun to consolidate its portfolio globally, and acquisitions have become few and far between, it still holds the largest number of agencies under its banner.

Consolidation in the Australian market has proposed extra challenges for WPP locally with the 2016 STW merger doubling its portfolio. As a result, WPP AUNZ was formed and has been merging STW’s local brands with its global powerhouses for the last two years.

Last week, it was revealed that Y&R, Sorrell’s biggest acquisition ever, would merge with VML. It was the first move made by Wunderman global boss Mark Read, who replaced Sorrell as CEO last month, and indicates changes are afoot at WPP.

As more mergers are expected to roll out, with rumours circulating that an announcement around the future of JWT and Grey could be made this year, AdNews takes a look back at the acquisitions and mergers across the WPP portfolio that have shaped the Australian agency landscape.


Martin Sorrell starts his career at Saatchi & Saatchi London


Sorrell acquires a 30% stake in UK shopping basket manufacturer Wire and Plastic Products.


Sorrell renames the company WPP Group and begins his acquisition trail, buying 11 agencies.


WPP acquires J. Walter Thompson Group for $566 million - an acquisition that also included research firm MRB Group and PR company Hill & Knowlton.

martin sorrellA young Martin Sorrell


Sorrell pays $864 million to buy the Ogilvy Group, which includes Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide, Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide and Ogilvy Direct.


WPP acquires healthcare advertising firm Thomas G. Ferguson Associates.


WPP shifts acquisition focus to digital companies.


WPP buys a stake in online shopping company Peapod, London digital media firm Syzygy and data-mining company HyperParallel.


WPP acquires retail consultants Management Ventures Inc and 30 other businesses.


WPP buys sports marketing company Prism Group and corporate consultancy Lambie-Nairn.


WPP acquires Young & Rubicam Group (Y&R), which includes corporate branding giant Landor, Wunderman, Burson-Marsteller, Sudler & Hennessey and Cohn & Wolfe.


WPP makes more than 25 acquisitions, including VML and Tempus Group.


WPP consolidates its media agencies, which consists of Mindshare and Mediaedge, into newly formed GroupM.


WPP buys Grey for an estimated $750 million, which also brings MediaCom into the fold.


WPP increases its stake in STW Group from 6.9% to 10% and speculation mounts of a merger.


WPP attempts to buy Naked Communications from Photon Group but fails. In the same year, Wunderman is moved out of Y&R and becomes a stand-alone agency.


WPP buys a 33.3% in STW’s digital shop DTDigital, which worked closely with Ogilvy. The Campaign Palace is folded into JWT.


WPP increases its stake in STW from 10% to 23.55% and in December that year STW and WPP finally confirm a merger between the two holding companies.


The STW and WPP merger is given the green light and an $850m business is created now known as WPP AUNZ. WPP and STW begins the consolidation process by merging STW’s Tongue under the DT banner.

wpp stw
STW and WPP merge to become WPP AUNZ


Consolidation continues as Landor and DesignWorks merge, The White Agency and Grey become WhiteGrey and AKQA and DT become one agency. On the media agency side, WPP dumped its 24% stake in Bohemia and MEC and Maxus formed Wavemaker.


WPP merges five of its consultancy and design shops to form Superunion. It also absorbs Webling into new digital agency, Mirum, and siphons production out of major agencies and into Kantar, which increases presence in the market.

Martin Sorrell exits the agency and Mark Read is later named global CEO. VML and Y&R merge globally to become VMLY&R.


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