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What Ad Holding Companies Stand to Gain from a Slowdown in Marketing Spending by Some

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    Some advertising holding companies have been reporting weaker-than-expected organic revenue results, raising questions about what that could mean for marketers’ spending with agencies in the quarters ahead.

    Some experts say the results don’t signal major problems ahead for ad companies such as Interpublic Group, Omnicom Group, WPP and Publicis Group, which own creative and media-planning and buying shops among other specialties.

    But others say the results, which reflected delayed projects and lower spending from marketers in the tech and telecom sectors, could be the start of a rough spell for big ad powers. Organic revenue growth removes effects of currency fluctuations, acquisitions and disposals.

    “It’s almost like we’re in an unprecedented situation, because there’s just been so many factors playing on the broader economy and the ad market," said Paul Verna, principal analyst at research firm Insider Intelligence. “And the ad market itself has been evolving so much."

    Here’s what experts are saying about ad holding companies’ second-quarter results and what it means about ad marketers’ spending this year.

    What’s been happening with results from the major holding companies?

    IPG and Omnicom last month reported weaker-than-expected organic revenue in the second quarter, and Publicis, which outpaced analysts’ organic growth expectations, said clients were putting off some projects.

    S4 Capital, the London-listed digital advertising and marketing-services group, last week lowered its like-for-like net revenue growth target for the full year and said second-quarter net revenue came in below budget, “reflecting the challenging macroeconomic conditions." S4 also said clients, especially in the technology sector, were cautious and focused on the short term.

    London-based ad giant WPP plans to report results Friday. Stagwell plans to report next week, while S4 plans to release results for the first half in September.

    The recent disappointments follow strong growth for many ad holding companies in recent quarters despite inflation and economic disruption, as new services for marketer clients helped cushion revenue streams.

    How much does one client sector really mean?

    S4, Omnicom and IPG recently called out slower spending by technology marketers, while some ad holding companies also cited less spending by telecommunications marketers. Chief Executive Officer Philippe Krakowsky said IPG has seen less spending by tech and telecom clients, for example, as they impose “significant cost cutting."

    At many holding companies, certain large clients can account for a huge portion of revenue, so when one big client pulls back on spending it can have major ripple effects on their agency partners.

    “For any holding company, an adjustment by a few of their top spenders is going to have an outsized impact on their results. That doesn’t necessarily indicate that we’re in a big secular trend," said Verna. “It’s more like the lumpiness of clients making decisions on a short-term basis. I think all of those factors play into it, and just make me a little bit less concerned that the bottom is going to fall out of the ad market in general."

    For instance, IPG client Microsoft said last week in its earnings report that its sales and marketing expenses decreased $100 million in the three months ended June 30 from the same period a year earlier.

    “You’ve got a handful of clients that appear to be doing a significant amount of cutting," said Brian Wieser, an industry analyst and principal at Madison and Wall, a strategic consultancy for tech and media companies. “We have to keep the context in mind: A couple percentage points is tens of millions of dollars. It’s not nothing. But it’s not an absolutely large number, either, so it’s not the end of the world."

    Are comparisons against last year meaningful?

    While tech spending has received the blame for the holding companies’ soft numbers, there is a bigger picture to keep in mind, Wieser said.

    “The second quarter should necessarily have been a pretty soft quarter, because we’re still dealing with these hard comparables from the year-ago period," Wieser said.

    Verna noted that ad-holding companies kicked off last year with relatively strong growth with the economy rebounding from the pandemic.

    MoffettNathanson analysts in a report last week about IPG similarly noted it is difficult to tell what to take away from IPG’s recent organic growth declines. “The question is, were the previous two years a post-pandemic fluke, are we now in a reversion to the company’s mean, or are we simply in a macro-induced hiccup?" they wrote.

    Are ad agencies doomed for a rough period ahead?

    The tone of the overall ad market beyond just the holding companies appears positive despite any concerns for specific sectors and companies, according to Macquarie analysts.

    They wrote in note that a strong leading indicator of ad spend is business investment spending, which rose at a 7.7% annual rate in the second quarter, according to the most recent gross domestic product report.

    Some worry, though, there may be trouble ahead for ad holding companies. Wells Fargo analysts last week said in a report they were downgrading ad agency stocks they follow, as they believe ad agency growth is slowing in the medium term. The analysts wrote that marketing spending cuts could spread to other industries.

    “While it may be decoupled from some other sector trends, we think it’s worth worrying that what tech companies are doing will be mimicked," the analysts wrote.


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