WPP is shutting down its Russian operations

The marketing and communications industry is joining other sectors spanning business, sports and culture in condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and announcing that they are either ceasing operations in the country or restricting Russian access to events.

On Friday, WPP announced that it would discontinue operations in Russia, where it operates agency networks including Wunderman Thompson and VMLY&R. In an internal statement to staff, global CEO Mark Read said that continuing to operate in Russia “would be inconsistent with our values as a company.”

Russia accounted for just 0.6% of WPP’s total revenue in 2021, according to a WPP communications officer, but the company employs nearly 1,400 people in the country.

Read said that WPP would work with staff, clients and partners in Russia to consider all options, including transfer of ownership and divestment, and plans to provide “additional and enhanced financial support” to anyone losing a job, with local agency leaders discussing next steps with their teams.

“Our Russian colleagues have been dedicated and valued members of the WPP family for a very long time and I deeply regret the impact this decision will have on them,” said Read.

WPP also employs approximately 200 people in Ukraine, and has said it remains in “constant contact” with leaders in the country to provide financial and “other forms of practical assistance” for employees there.

In an email statement to The Message, Interpublic Group spokesperson Thomas Cunningham said the company is “abiding with all sanctions imposed by the U.S. and the broader international community” in Russia, where it employs approximately 200 people.

Cunningham said that IPG is currently assessing the appropriate course of action, that is “both responsive to the gravity of the situation and also seeks to take into account the welfare of these colleagues.”

He said that the company’s primary focus continues to be on remaining in regular contact with affiliate partners in Ukraine “to determine the most effective ways for us to provide support to them, and the needs of all Ukrainians, during this crisis.”

According to The Wall Street Journal, Dentsu is also reviewing its business dealings in Russia to make sure it is complying with sanctions.

“In regards to global businesses closing their Russian operations, we are closely reviewing this situation to better guide our clients and also make informed decisions for our business and communities as a whole,” said Giulio Malegori, Dentsu’s chief executive for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, in a statement provided to WSJ.

The Message also contacted other major holding companies including Publicis Groupe, Omnicom and Havas Group, as well as the World Federation of Advertisers, for comment.

WPP’s announcement followed Thursday’s announcement by Accenture that it would be shutting down its Russian operations, putting approximately 2,300 people out of work. “Accenture stands with the people of Ukraine and the governments, companies and individuals around the world calling for the immediate end to the unlawful and horrific attack on the people of Ukraine and their freedom,” it said in a statement.

And also on Friday, the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity announced that it would not accept submissions or delegates from Russia for this year’s event. In a statement posted to its website, Cannes Lions organizers said that “We stand together with our friends in Ukraine, and our many partners and community members in Russia who strongly oppose the actions of the Russian Government.”

While recognizing that it was a “small gesture,” the festival also said that it would accept “any and all” Ukrainians who are able to attend the annual advertising showcase free of charge.

Russia had 310 entries in the 2019 Cannes Lions, from a total of almost 31,000 submissions. According to PR Week, it submitted 401 entries last year for work from the two years prior (the 2020 event was cancelled because of the pandemic).

The European Association of Communications Agencies (EACA) also said Friday that it is suspending its relationships with the Russian Association of Communications Agencies and the Association of Communication and Marketing Agencies of Belarus. It said the moves were of a “concerted effort to isolate Russian and Belarusian Institutions from the international community.”

“The [EACA] strongly condemns Russia’s recent invasion and ongoing, unjustifiable aggression in Ukraine,” read the EACA statement. “This action is a despicable attack on peace and democracy in Europe. As such, we firmly stand with the people of Ukraine.”

The egta, the global trade body for TV and radio sales houses, also announced on Friday that it would suspend relationships with Russian members “as a strong signal to its leadership and as part of the international effort to isolate Russia from the international community.” The organization also said it would donate €100,000 to Ukrainian media and humanitarian institutions.

Photo by Max Kukurudziak on Unsplash

Chris Powell