Tim Armstrong is being considered to run WPP but hasn't talked to the company yet

John Lamparski/Getty ImagesTim Armstrong
  • WPP has a short list of potential successors to departed CEO Sir Martin Sorrell – and Oath CEO Tim Armstrong is on it.
  • The recruited Russell Reynolds is conducting the search for WPP. But, the two sides have yet to talk, and it’s not clear that Armstrong would want the job.
  • Armstrong’s level of interest may hinge on whether he sees a path to running Oath parent Verizon someday.

WPP is looking for a replacement for departed CEO Sir Martin Sorrell – and Oath CEO Tim Armstrong is on the list.

But the two sides haven’t started talking yet, according to people familiar with the matter.

The advertising agency holding company has tapped the executive recruiting firm Russell Reynolds to search for a replacement for Sorrell, who stepped down last month amidst accusations of improper behaviour.

Armstrong, who previously ran AOL before it was sold to Verizon in 2015, is on Russell Reynolds’ list. But WPP has yet to talk to Armstrong.

And Armstrong may not be interested either. He appeared to imply that he was staying at Oath with a tweet Monday morning, saying he was “totally focused & engaged on building our 1 billion consumer brand ecosystem out and getting @Yahoo@AOL & all brands to growth mode @verizon.”

The Financial Times first reported WPP’s interest in Armstrong, as well as Unilever’s chief marketing officer Keith Weed.Russell Reynolds declined to comment for this story.

Whoever takes the job has huge shoes to fill, and would oversee WPP at a time of great uncertainty. Sorrell’s departure has set off speculation that the company may need to be broken up.

Some have gone as far as questioning whether the era of giant holding companies controlling dozens of ad agencies may be nearing its end as marketing becomes far more data and technology-driven.

Armstrong has helped oversee Verizon’s aggressive investment in digital content in recent years, including last year’s acquisition of Yahoo that eventually led to the formation of Oath – the wireless giant’s ad platform that aspires to siphon ad money from Google and Facebook.

The former Google sales chief has even been mentioned a potential successor to Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam, who is thought to be close to retirement. It’s possible that Armstrong might consider the WPP job if he sees his path to succeed McAdam blocked.

Of course, Armstrong has also never worked on the ad buying side of the business. The vast majority of his experience is in selling media and advertising. As one WPP source noted, running a massive agency would be a major departure.

Plus, WPP is a global conglomerate, while most of Armstrong’s career has been US-focused.

But Armstrong boasts of a strong reputation throughout the industry. “People like Tim, without question,” Colin Kinsella, North America chief executive for media-buying agency Mindshare, told the Wall Street Journal in 2015.

This post has been updated with a tweet from Armstrong, where he seemed to imply that he was staying at Oath.

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