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The man who came to personify advertising

By the Turbanned Stranger

You either like him or are jealous…

David Ogilvy famously called Sir Martin Sorrell an “odious little jerk”, although he later changed his mind, took a job at WPP and sang praises of him.
Chris Ingram, the former boss of media-buying group Tempus, once said he would rather “lick an abattoir floor” than work for Sorrell.

So when the Chief Executive of WPP, the world’s largest advertising agency, resigned after 33 years with full retirement rights last month under investigation for an allegation of personal misconduct, the world came to a standstill.

The 73-year-old has denied the misconduct allegation, which involves the improper use of company funds and allegations of improper personal behaviour.

I asked exWPP Global Creative Godfather Neil French for his thoughts and he responded, “An elephant may be stung by ants, but it is still an elephant. Martin made some mistakes (don’t we all), but he remains an elephant.”

Was WPP going to break up?

Martin was a such a glue to over 200,000 people and their 500,000 or so dependents, and clients across 112 countries. WPP had taken a massive hit with shares down almost 13% and Martin Sorrell had commented, “2017 was not pretty. The major factors influencing WPP’s performance were probably the long-term impact of technological disruption and more the short-term focus of zero-based budgeters, activist investors, and private equity.”

What went wrong?

The unbundling of creative and media which was started by him had come full circle with ever decreasing margins. The writing was on the wall. Tom Doctoroff, Chief Cultural Insights Officer at Prophet, put it best, “In-house agencies are the rage. Clients deal directly with Facebook and Google. Content is produced by brand managers. They have fallen into a vicious spiral of fee cuts and talent degradation.”

Sir Martin was the man who turned a wire-basket maker into a global advertising powerhouse. He became an elderly statesman of the industry and appeared in the news and on TV, talking about Facebook and Google to BRIC and Brexit. He earned millions – and a knighthood.

For a long time, he publicly called out technology companies’ incursions into the media and advertising businesses, calling Google a “frenemy,” a combination of friend and enemy.

He once said, “Google and Facebook are going to have to step up to the fact that our clients are not content with attributing a View for three seconds, with half the time the sound turned off.”

I will miss him because he was so hands-on you never felt he was out of reach.  Whenever I emailed him, he did not take him more than a few hours to respond. That was how hands-on Sir Martin Sorrell was!

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