With the formation of Choreograph, WPP is consolidating more of its data expertise to meet client demand for marketing services around first-party data. Brands are racing to find new methods of acquiring first-party assets and applying the consumer IDs they already own ahead of the deprecation of third-party cookies and with Apple's mobile tracking changes recently going into effect.
Billed as a "global data company," Choreograph pledges to help marketers on that journey while keeping privacy considerations and permission-based tactics in mind.
"We are at an inflection point in the industry, where brands have an imperative to leverage their own first-party data to make advertising more relevant, effective and personal while fully respecting consumer privacy," WPP chief executive Mark Read said in a press statement. "We must also use data to gain insights, shape our creative work and measure results — and this requires a holistic approach that this integrated offering brings by enabling data to flow across client, agency, and media owners."
Under Read's tenure, WPP has streamlined more shops across its sprawling organization in a bid to bolster efficiency and reignite growth. Marketers for years have demanded that large ad holding groups reduce complexity, a need that could be amplified by the pandemic, which has put a premium on responding quickly to market trends.
At the same time, the health crisis has accelerated WPP's realignment around technology, with bigger bets on areas like e-commerce. Choreograph is still noteworthy for its size — more than 700 employees will sit within the unit overseen by GroupM North American CEO Kirk McDonald — and laser focus on first-party data strategy. GroupM is WPP's largest media-buying operation, handling an estimated $60 billion in annual media investments.
Choreograph is committed to being platform-agnostic, per the announcement, hoping to provide flexibility to clients. WPP must ensure brands trust the group to safely manage their first-party data and apply it responsibly. In February, GroupM introduced a piece of proprietary tech called the Data Ethics Compass that is designed to help marketers measure data ethics risks more consistently. Unilever was a launch partner. Choreograph also has the ability to draw on WPP's deep well of expertise in other fields including creative, media planning and public relations.
More brands are gravitating toward solutions like clean rooms, digital clearinghouses that allow multiple data sources to be amalgamated and analyzed in a manner meant to safeguard user privacy. Marketers are also increasingly adopting data management platforms and customer data platforms to handle their first-party services — a trend WPP may contend with in trying to differentiate Choreograph.
Choreograph's formal reveal follows news from March that WPP would invest over $200 million in a new data offering under the GroupM banner. Speaking to The Wall Street Journal at the time, Read said acquisitions were in the cards as part of WPP's move to strengthen expertise in areas like analytics and artificial intelligence. However, the executive suggested WPP would direct more energy toward rounding out its internal capabilities than on mega deals.
Other large ad holding groups are reworking their data operations after sinking millions or even billions of dollars to expand them in recent years. Publicis Groupe in April partnered with demand-side platform The Trade Desk to steel itself for the pending changes to cookies. As part of the agreement, Publicis' data-marketing arm Epsilon will pair its identity solution with Unified ID 2.0, a third-party cookie alternative originally developed by The Trade Desk that's gained traction in the marketing industry. Publicis acquired Epsilon for $4.4 billion in 2019.
Some of WPP's new ventures in digital media, e-commerce and data appear to be paying off as a pandemic recovery starts to take shape. The company recently reported that like-for-like organic growth, a key measure of health for agencies, climbed 3.1% year-on-year to $3.24 billion in the first quarter of 2021.