Sorrell’s new venture, the excitingly-named S4 Capital, would not compete with WPP, he told a nonplussed audience in Cannes the other week.
How times change. The blades of his helicopter have barely touched the ground, yet here he is, reportedly competing with WPP to purchase Dutch independent MediaMonks.
Obvious jokes about Sorrell spending time in Holland aside – and disregarding the fact he’s still 2% shareholder in WPP, essentially bidding against himself – this sort of episode engenders everything awful about holding company culture.
It’s probably too late as the auction is underway, but my advice to MediaMonks? Stay independent. It’s not worth the money. Exchanging scale for control is a bad deal. Do you really want to become little but an asset to the lagging corporate machine?
Accenture, which has mutated Karmarama, and Inflexion, a private equity firm, are also reportedly bidding for MediaMonks. It’s a credit to any independent – flattering – to receive such interest. But take the compliment and move on.
All agencies that are acquired make a song and dance about maintaining their company culture. Few actually do. Maybe at first, but they’re called shell companies for a reason: the firm will be a shell of its former self in no time, subsumed into the master brand.
Everything that makes independent agencies great will be lost. The flexibility, the agility, the ability to change tact without layers of bureaucracy. Do you really want a micromanaging Sorrell figure barking orders down the phone? My guess is not.
Creativity requires the freedom to be able to pivot and react, which is precisely what Sorrell failed to do at WPP for years. The size of WPP, combined with Sorrell’s intransigence to adapt to the modern world, are exactly why he should have stepped down years ago.
Is that a culture you want to enter? Being the plaything of an ego trying to rebuild his empire stinks.
We’re at a pivotal moment in the history of advertising; we’ve gone from mad men to sad men. Last year was miserable for holding companies, and the trend isn’t subsiding. A great debate rages about scale versus agility, but the latter is sacrosanct. Client flight, falling revenues, transparency issues. Why on earth would you want to be a part of that?
On the bottom line, regardless of which firm wins, being slave to the City; to the infighting of investors and obsession with money, detracts from getting on with good creative work.
Genius can only breathe in an atmosphere of freedom. So take a deep breath while you can.
Rania Robinson is chief executive and managing partner at Quiet Storm