What does communications services group WPP offer start-ups?

Making clearly targeted investments for mutual benefit

25 European Corporate Startup Stars reveals which large companies are doing the most to support new firms. These case studies highlight some specific examples of active and successful collaboration between corporates and start-ups.

A good example of…

Strategic investments and acquisitions

European headquarters: London

Geographical reach: Global (operating in 112 countries worldwide)

Sector/s of interest: Communications services, with a particular focus on data, content and technology

Works with start-ups through:

  • 35-plus minority investments totalling over $750m since 2006
  • 52 acquisitions in 2015
  • Partnerships connecting early-stage companies with WPP clients
  • Support through accelerators and incubators, such as Y&R Spark Plug and TechStars
  • A series of regular events, including eight WPP Stream conferences
  • Informal and formal resource sharing (including partnerships such as OgilvyLabs)

 

Why does WPP work with start-ups?

WPP, the world’s largest communications services group, engages heavily with start-ups as part of its strategy to build capability in data, content and technology. Investing in start-ups also allows WPP to bring new solutions, ‘first look’ content and product opportunities to its clients, and to gain insights into new, disruptive business models and technologies.

How does WPP work with start-ups?

Since 2006, WPP has committed over $750m to more than 35 strategic, minority investments, including VICE, Percolate, Refinery29, Woven and All Def Digital. In 2015 alone, WPP made 52 acquisitions totalling nearly £650m.

WPP’s investments have brought success for all parties involved, in some instances resulting in the development of proprietary platforms and technologies – for example, the Playa influencer marketing programme, created in collaboration with Fullscreen, a WPP investment.

Events such as WPP Stream and platforms such as GroupM’s DigiTech database further streamline the process of meeting, evaluating and working with new companies at scale.

What has WPP done to facilitate collaboration with start-ups?

WPP’s investment strategy is a good example of how to make collaboration easier for both corporations and start-ups. As well as financial investment, it gives start-ups preferential access to business opportunities and the ability to accelerate their work globally. It also provides access to WPP’s network of companies and executives who offer input on start-ups’ products and strategies.

WPP regularly partners with start-ups around the world and connects them with clients across a range of business sectors. WPP’s “unconference” Stream helps with this and has at least 50 to 75 start-up attendees at each event.

The GroupM DigiTech database also helps WPP to select new start-ups to work with, as it offers a comprehensive overview of technology companies’ offerings.

 

Success story: DigiTech

WPP’s GroupM developed DigiTech to help the media investment management agencies within the GroupM family to navigate the ever-expanding range of technology vendors. The database provides a comprehensive overview of technology companies’ offerings, and streamlines the process of meeting and working with start-ups.

Media and events company AdExchanger describes DigiTech as “an internal repository of highly detailed, searchable information on any tech company, publisher, exchange, network or app worth its salt.”

 

“The DigiTech platform for vendors is very interesting. WPP carries out a lot of acquisition and is a strong example of influencer marketing”

Edward Wray, Corporate Startup Stars judge

 

What can other corporates learn from WPP about working with start-ups?

  • It is most effective to collaborate with start-ups that have a clear and unique offer. If start-ups in a particular field have created products and services that aren’t sufficiently different to others on the market, it can be more effective to invest internally
  • Investing in platforms such as the DigiTech database allows WPP’s GroupM to streamline the process of selection and procurement from start-ups
  • Partnerships with local accelerators and incubators help corporates to tap into the start-up ecosystem, as does playing an active part in these (for example, as mentors)

 

What is WPP looking for from the start-ups it works with?

WPP is particularly focused on start-ups that can help it to build capability in the areas of data, content and technology. It also aims to bring new solutions, ‘first-look’ content and product opportunities to its clients, and gain insights into disruptive business models and technologies.

How can start-ups get involved with WPP?

The WPP Corporate Development team, as well as the WPP Digital team, act as liaisons and integrators for start-ups across the organisation and its client network. To get in touch, please go to the following website: https://www.wpp.com/wppdigital/

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Image courtesy of SVC2UK CEO Summit 2015.

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 644104.

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