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Exclusive: WPP UK President Karen Blackett on why she’s “ecstatic” to be opening new Manchester campus

Karen Blackett

As preparations ramp up for the opening of a brand new campus in the heart of Manchester at Enterprise City, global marketing services company WPP said the hub will be a “real focus for growth.”

Around 550 staff – hailing from WPP agencies EssenceMediacom, Cheetham Bell, Code Computerlove, Ogilvy Health, VMLY&R Health, Wavemaker, Cloud Commerce Group and Kinetic – will eventually be based at the campus once it officially opens

“The Manchester campus journey has been something which I raised back in 2018. We don’t just want the UK to be about London. Growth and creativity is across the UK,” Karen Blackett (OBE), UK President of WPP, told Prolific North. “It’s finally come to fruition which I am ecstatic about.”

Blackett previously served as the UK CEO of GroupM, WPP’s media investment business, alongside her role as UK Country Manager for WPP, before taking up the role as UK President in October. Part of her remit includes attracting diverse talent to work and progress through the ranks at WPP, looking at how each agency can generate growth for clients, and exploring how and where WPP is seen – which is where the campus strategy ties in.

The new Northern headquarters for WPP’s agencies, based at the 88,000 sq ft Globe Building, marks its 36th campus globally, forming part of WPP’s plan to have 65 campuses open by 2025.

But why Manchester and what is the motivation behind WPP’s decision to establish a new centralised hub in the region? 

“Manchester was key because of its history for our agencies but also the opportunity for creativity,” she explained. “We already had a presence in Manchester and it’s been a presence for more than 30 years. But when you look at Manchester as a city, there’s such a huge opportunity.”

With thousands of talented students emerging from universities across the city that WPP hopes to tap into, it’s also the “second largest city for creativity in Europe” which offers “huge potential”.

“In the same way that we create partnerships in London, we’ll be looking at doing the same thing in Manchester,” she said, with more set to be revealed at WPP’s official opening at the campus about what those partnerships will look like. “Manchester is a brilliant fruit salad of people and we need to reflect that in our organisations.”

“Catalyst for growth”

“What I’m really keen on – because there’s a history of the agencies being in the city – is that we genuinely are part of the community and work with different organisations within Manchester,” she explained. 

“One of our plans is to really look at how we can be a catalyst for growth for small businesses in Manchester.”

Through a partnership with The ScaleUp Institute, WPP will be looking at how it can bring some of those scale-ups into the building, and how its agencies can work with them to help them grow too. It’ll also be an opportunity to house creative events at the Manchester office for Creative UK, where Karen sits on the board. 

“Whether you’re a digital start-up through to a filmmaker, having that opportunity to collaborate is really important. So it’s not just collaborating within our own agencies, but collaborating with the community as well.”

Uniting its agencies together under one roof is “where magic can happen” with creativity. She’s seen it at other WPP campuses with the Wavemaker team working really closely with Ogilvy or how the VMLY&R team has linked up with Landor Fitch.

“I’m really excited about the opportunity for all of our agencies to come together in one building, but also some other WPP brands coming to Manchester as well. Ogilvy and VMLY&R that are going to be housed in our building. 

“The campuses are about how we get our people together to look at how we can create magic, because creativity really works where you can get different thought processes and different people all together in one room, where you get that diversity of thought, you can unlock issues and problems, you can find solutions, you can generate growth.”

With many agencies switching to working remotely and getting rid of offices altogether in the midst of an economic downturn, she believes balancing flexible working with getting people together is key for growth.

“You have to appreciate that people’s life choices have changed since the pandemic,” she explained. “We absolutely embrace flexible working but when we get people together it’s in a space which helps their creativity, not dampens it.”

Based on the site of the old Granada TV studios, once home to the cobbles of Coronation Street before relocating to MediaCity, the history of the site was a further pull to Enterprise City.

“When we were looking at Manchester, we looked at a few sites. Our building being located on the cobbles of Coronation Street and the old Granada studios premises, it just means that you’re part of the community, and I love the history behind it.

“We just opened Rose Court in London, our second campus in London last June. Again, the history of that it’s above where the original Globe Theatre was. I just love it when there’s a story behind creativity and with Enterprise City, it’s linked to the creative industry and that creativity heritage is there as well.

“We’re in good company where we’ve moved into. We’ve got, Google and Microsoft. It’s a hub of excitement around Enterprise City. Everybody’s really excited to get into the building!”

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