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Marketing

Group M must use its power to be a force for good in UK media and society


I recently marked two years since I took on the role of Group M UK CEO, alongside my existing role as WPP UK country manager. 

Before joining, I had big ambitions for Group M: the need to be more vocal and use our voice for good, how we can drive positive change within the industry, and how we can continue to help our agencies to deliver for clients in an ever-changing world. 

It is our global vision to be responsible for shaping the next era of media, where advertising works better for people. 

Within the UK, the leadership team and I have been thinking about what that means for our market, and what we can and should be taking responsibility for.

At its core, the advertising industry has the power to influence and change consumers’ behaviour. This is both a serious responsibility and an incredible opportunity. No other industry has this power to drive such change. 

As advertisers, we need to tap into this power so we can deliver phenomenal value for our clients, and truly begin to lead the industry, and wider society, forward. 

Beyond our specific industry issues, the world is crying out for change. The past few years have presented us with a unique opportunity to reassess our contribution to the world – as individuals, as organisations and as an industry.

The events driving this have been raw and universally relevant and should not be ignored. From Britain leaving the EU at the end of 2019, to entering into a global pandemic and the murder of George Floyd in 2020, which triggered a global awakening to systemic inequities. Not to mention the impending ecological disaster we are all facing.

When the devastating news broke about the invasion of Ukraine, we were overwhelmed by the offers of support from across our network. In addition to the range of financial, practical and wellbeing support available to our Ukrainian colleagues, our teams in the central and eastern European region and the UK have helped organise contributions and practical support of varying size and degrees, ranging from the delivery of clothes and essential items at the border, to helping our colleagues to resettle in other countries.

As part of this, we set up an internal matching scheme for UK colleagues who wish to host via the government scheme, to connect them with WPP colleagues needing to use this service.

WPP also created a global fundraising appeal with the UN refugee agency UNHCR to help provide humanitarian assistance to people forced to flee their homes, and made a commitment to match-fund donations from WPP employees, resulting in $670,000 of contributions from our people and a total of more than $1.3m for the UNHCR. 

These events have invited us all to take responsibility for supporting one another and helping to create a fairer society, while thinking “how can I make a difference?” and “what could we and should we be doing as an organisation in response?” 

It’s these conscious thinking patterns and questions we hold ourselves accountable against and welcome within Group M and WPP. 

We have pivoted our thinking, how we see ourselves and our role in the market. It’s no secret that Group M has often been known for its size and our trading muscle – which is still an important asset. However, it’s now vitally important that we are ensuring this power is used for the greater good. 

It is a bold statement, but I truly believe we are embedding socially driven purposes, diversity and equity throughout everything we do. From our Responsible Investment with its emphasis on brand safety and ethics, to the work we do with our valued partners such as Brixton Finishing School and The Uninvisibility Project, to consistently reviewing our PSL to include diverse media owners and audiences… I could go on. 

These are just a few headlines that will allow us to use this power to futureproof and shape the next era of media and advertising, choosing to do so in a positive way that will make it work better for everyone, both in and out of the industry. 

Why is this so important? Apart from it being the right thing to do, the UK advertising market saw a world-beating forecast of 35.7% of growth in 2021, according to our December This Year Next Year Global Advertising Forecast.

We’re also predicting that digital advertising media will account for 86% of the UK’s advertising market by 2026. 

Group M’s market position remains a phenomenal asset; but how we use it is going to change. This transformation is summed up in the idea of using our “power to”.

We believe the work we do can be grouped under these three areas: Better Advertising Experiences, Supporting a Fairer Society and Building a Sustainable Future.  

This is how we will conduct ourselves going forward and everything we do at Group M UK will have these three principles running through prominently. Let me briefly take you through them:

Creating better advertising experiences 

To do so, we must first acknowledge and understand one of the most prevalent issues within advertising: the lack of trust. This is something I’ve spoken about a lot before, and it falls to all of us within the industry to address this problem. 

With that in mind, at Group M we use our expertise and our current and future products to craft experiences that are relevant, enjoyable and truly valuable for customers – all while using data responsibly, ethically and efficiently. 

It’s also about keeping brands and consumers safe, a key priority for us that aligns with our own internal ethics policies. I am proud to say that we are already making great strides in these areas.

For example, we were the first media agency to be awarded the IAB Gold Standard 2.0, which means we excel in the areas of brand safety and ad fraud prevention, and have recently been recertified under the TAG Brand Safety 2.0 certification.

Supporting a fairer society

We (and our work) must authentically represent the wonderful fruit salad that is modern Britain. That can be achieved through diverse recruitment that seeks to remove biases and barriers. But we have to go beyond our own internal team and we must ensure we’re supporting a more diverse advertising ecosystem that delivers inclusive campaigns.

Failure to do so will mean that content will be created that won’t resonate with UK society. By taking this approach, we can help advertisers reach their audiences with empathetic messaging in relevant contexts, that people can relate to and just simply “get”. 

This is why we are proud to have the industry’s leading diverse supply-chain network. It has allowed our clients to take tangible steps to ensure they are expanding the range of businesses they are working with and putting advertisers in touch with a broader base of media owners.

Additionally, through this network we can support new media owners, by not only helping them forge connections, but by offering industry guidance that ensures they have equitable opportunities to meet advertisers’ needs and standards. 

Building a sustainable future

For us at Group M, it is vital that we use our voice to shape the industry’s response to the climate emergency and use our power to build a more sustainable future.

We know that growing numbers of client companies that we work with are looking for ways to tread more lightly on the planet, and so – by helping them to measure and reduce the negative impacts of their comms work – we can assist them in meeting their own demanding targets and priorities in this area.

As the advertisers we work with include some of the biggest and most innovative companies in the world, our collaborative efforts tackling sustainability issues together can have a hugely significant impact. 

We also work with an amazing line-up of media and technology partners. Recently, how we partner with them has shifted – of course we still seek to secure value, quality and flexibility for our clients, but increasingly we are also looking to collaborate with them in new ways that can ensure we are having a positive influence on the world. 

That’s why we launched our Responsible Investment Framework, to ensure both Group M and our partners adhere to the highest standards across five key areas – brand safety, data ethics, responsible journalism, sustainability and diversity, equity & inclusion – and why we offer our carbon calculator (the first tool of its kind), which allows our clients to measure and reduce the negative carbon impact of their campaigns.

The future of advertising 

A key takeaway for me recently has been the importance of being able to adapt. As society shifts and embraces change, we need to do the same.

We need to reflect the modern media landscape and we need to reflect modern British society. And, as the market leader, we need to use our power to pioneer and push forward others as well.

I’ve asked everyone at Group M individually to think about this harnessing of our “power to”, to ask themselves: “How does this change what I do, and how I do it? How can I help to create better advertising experiences? How can I support a fairer society? How can I help to build a sustainable future?”

I believe questions like these are ones every organisation should be asking itself. It’s a really exciting time for us as an industry and I look forward to seeing where we go from here.

Karen Blackett is UK chief executive of Group M



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