WPP’s organic revenue was down by 8.2% in 2020

But the holding company's recent trajectory has it expecting 2021 to be a year of "solid recovery."

Like most holding companies, WPP’s revenue took a major hit in 2020 due to client spending cutbacks during the pandemic, but the company’s CEO is still expecting recovery to come in 2021.

Like-for-like revenue less pass through costs (how WPP refers to organic revenue) was down 8.2% for the full year. That puts WPP behind competitors like Publicis and IPG, but ahead of Omnicom. The company also pointed out that it has seen sequential improvements on organic revenue over each quarter, with the decline at 6.5% in Q4, compared to 7.6% in Q3 and 15.1% in Q2.

WPP’s integrated agencies had a 7.9% decrease in organic revenue for the full year, though that was scaled back to 6.3% in Q4, similar to a 6.7% decline it reported in Q3. The company pointed to agencies within VMLY&R as being particularly strong performers. On the media front, GroupM’s organic revenue was down by 4.1% in Q4, also similar to Q3 as pandemic-related spending cutbacks by clients continue, but its digital billings as part of its total mix increased by 3.8 points.

With response and reputation work in high demand during the pandemic, PR was WPP’s strongest sector throughout the year, having only 4% decline in organic revenue for the year. However, the 4.1% dip it deported in Q4 is greater than the 2.9% it saw in Q3 (WPP cited a strong year-over-year comparable period for the change).

WPP’s specialist agencies had a 11.5% year-over-year decline in organic revenue in 2020. However, the company was optimistic about its business trajectory, as it has shown the best quarter-over-quarter improvement throughout the year, with all of its “main agencies” in the group improving Q4 performance compared to the previous quarter.

The company also spent £70 million on severance costs related to COVID-19 in 2020, on top of £27 million in severance it said is unrelated to the pandemic.

Looking forward, the company is optimistic. In particular, it said CPG, tech and healthcare clients ? three of its biggest by share of revenue ? were some of the most resilient to the impacts of the pandemic, with spending up by 0.9% in 2020. It is also bullish on its new and retained business; for example, it cited Comvergence data showing the value of new business at GroupM outpaced media groups at other holding companies.

“While revenue was significantly impacted as clients reduced spending, our performance exceeded our own expectations and those of the market throughout the year,” Mark Read, CEO of WPP, said in a statement, adding that, despite uncertainty, demand for “simple, integrated solutions” that combine creativity with data has it expecting “a solid recovery” in 2021.