This year was supposed to be the year that advertising business WPP (WPP) moved from consolidating its position following the departure of founder Martin Sorrell to really getting back on a growth path.

Unfortunately a global pandemic has put paid to CEO Mark Read’s best-laid plans. As such WPP recorded third-quarter revenue of just under £3 billion, down 9.8% compared to Q3 2019. The shares are down 2.4% to 600p this morning.

The result brought the company's total revenue for the first nine months of 2020 to £8.6 billion, down by 11.5% on the same period in 2019.

On a like-for-like basis, Q3 revenue was down 5.5%.

However, WPP highlighted ‘good momentum’ in new business, bringing in $1.6 billion in the third quarter and $5.6 billion in the first nine months of 2020.

The company also cut its net debt position to £2.5 billion, down by £2 billion year on year as recently appointed numbers man John Rogers – snared from Sainsbury’s in 2019 – gets on top of the balance sheet.

Shore Capital analyst Roddy Davidson said: ‘Notwithstanding continuing uncertainty over short-term advertising spend, we are encouraged by the momentum flagged in this morning’s update, continue to view WPP as a quality business and like the way in which it is been repositioned.’

His counterpart at Numis Steve Liechti said: ‘While we see a tough task for new management given legacy issues, 3Q is better, we see near-term actions to move the business to growth, and the CFO is signalling more mid-term cost/ margin potential, though Covid-19 lockdown news is unhelpful.’

The market will get a clearer view on how the company intends to emerge from the pandemic when it delivers a ‘virtual’ investor day on 17 December.

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Issue Date: 29 Oct 2020