Croisette kings on creativity: Sir Martin Sorrell

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WPP's CEO confesses his affection for creative departments

As the great and the good of the advertising world descend on the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, we ask the leaders of the big six holding companies what this means to them.

Perhaps it is a secret but, contrary to popular mythology, I really like creative departments; the more creative they are, the better. Although, famously, I have never written an ad in my life, the work of copywriters and art directors is what drew me to this business in the first place.

When I gave the D&AD President’s Lecture nearly 20 years ago, I described myself as "a reluctant groupie." I continue to be fascinated by creatives, in all their inventive, independently minded, unmanageable glory.

What I don’t like, however, is the delusion that creativity can only exist in the traditional creative department or the traditional crafts of art and copy. This hangover from the days of "Mad Men" is as out-of-date as Don’s attitude toward women and the series’ depiction of racial and religious bias.

Trying to define creativity (as the brief for this piece asked) is a fool’s errand, but it’s something to do with wit, insight, imagination, unpredictability, innovation and ideas. These are the fundamentals of our business, but can anyone seriously claim that they belong solely to one function of marketing services? Media planners and buyers, account directors, software developers, strategists, healthcare specialists, PRs, content specialists, data analysts – they can be, and have to be, creative too.

The Cannes Lions festival recognizes this through the (highly lucrative) breadth of award categories — encompassing everything from traditional TV spots to healthcare communications and data visualisation.

That clients continue to flock to Cannes is very encouraging because it tells us that they place a high value on creativity (of all kinds). But while chief marketing officers are, I believe, as enthused as ever by the amazing work on display, their colleagues in the finance and procurement departments need more convincing. And, in the post-Lehman era of penny-pinching, caution and conservatism, the chief finance officers and chief procurement officers have a lot of clout.

In this difficult environment for agencies, demonstrating the business impact of applied creativity is crucial. We should be as fluent in the language of effectiveness as the language of creativity – and there is no shortage of client-approved case studies to help with that.

At WPP, we are very proud to have been named the most creative holding company at Cannes for the past four years, but just as pleased to have won most effective holding company in the Effie Index – again for the past four years.

What the Effies examine are the business results delivered by campaigns and what they prove is what every agency knows: that advertising and marketing services, and applied creativity, are the engine of commerce. In short, that marketing is an investment, not a cost.

What’s the most creative thing you own?
I want to be allowed two: James Webb Young’s A Technique For Producing Ideas and the collected essays of Jeremy Bullmore.

This article first appeared on

Cannes Lions 2015 Coverage


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