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A Week in the Delta

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My last week in Silicon Valley and Colombia has just underlined, once again, where the top-line delta is coming from and has to come from. As the world economy tightens as a whole and a re-elected or new President of the USA has to grapple with the $16 trillion US debt load with a likely deadlocked Congress, finding the growth pockets across the globe becomes even more important.

Each year we bring our top 100 or so together for our annual strategy meeting, as we revise our three-year rolling business plans and then prepare our annual budgets in October and November.

Usually we do this in New York, at the same time as the Clinton Global Initiative. This year we went west to Palo Alto and the Computer History Museum, with lengthy sessions at Hacker Square and the Googleplex and a big networking event with the leading start-ups and venture capitalists. In addition, there was a very stimulating healthcare panel and a Pinterest pitch, by the CEO.

All this made everyone appreciate yet again the ingenuity and entrepreneurial drive in the Valley, which must be a key engine for reviving and further strengthening the US economy and dealing with the environmental issues we all face. Google seemed rampant - now the second most valuable company on the planet, with a five-legged stool covering search, display, video, social and mobile.

Can anyone catch them, particularly as every search you or I make just gives them more ammunition to develop intelligent search and the wisdom they talk about? Only regulation and diseconomies of scale seem the big issues. Google fielded their top talent in all those areas, capped by a hoarse Larry Page, as articulate and incisive as ever. The ride in the driverless car proved to be less white-knuckle than predicted. What next?

Facebook seemed more introspective, still coping with the demands of their high-expectation IPO, even as they pass one billion users and surely will soon become the biggest nation on the planet.

My view is that they should relax and focus on mobile and the expensive addition of Instagram, for example. They have one of the best, if not the best, long-term branding mechanisms in the world, but social is different to search and demands a differentiated, less abrasive and intrusive advertising approach. We all know intuitively or from research that word of mouth is the most powerful advertising tool - both Facebook and Twitter epitomise and embody that power. It's really not a 100-metre sprint, it's a marathon - more Mo Farah, less Usain Bolt. So Facebook should just relax. Forget about stock market demands. After all look at the S1 and Zuck's philosophical strategy. It's very long-term and about building a social network.

Then on to Colombia and the once-in-every-two-years advertising congress in Cartagena with Luis Moreno, a leading Colombian and President of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), Latin America's leading development institution. A timely reminder that this is the decade of Latin America, with the World Cup and Olympics to come in short order. The world's eyes will be on Brazil and Latin America in 2014 and 2016.

The achievements of Presidents Uribe and Santos in Colombia and Lula and Rousseff in Brazil, for example, will not be reversed. China and India and the Middle-East may get the ink, but Latin America, Africa and Central and Eastern Europe are equally important. The Chinese Politburo certainly understand that and it will be increasingly difficult for the USA to maintain their influence, as they will have to sort out their budget priorities and eliminate some political investments. The conference was also a reminder that Latin America is a hotbed of new media invention too, just like Silicon Valley. Particularly as mobile leap-frogs the PC as the cheap form of access to the web.

I write this on the TGV to Poitiers, where we will hold a WPP board meeting at David and Herta Ogilvy's Chateau de Touffou. With our key people we will be focussing on our operations in Europe - roughly the same size as our BRICs and Next 11, but much more challenged to say the least. Most CEOs talk about a lost decade in Western Europe that we are only half-way through. Back to earth with a bump!

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