Sorrell on Sorrell: ex-WPP chief in his own words

Campaign looks back at some of Sir Martin Sorrell's musings, barbs and pearls of wisdom in recent times.

Sir Martin Sorrell’s direct, abrasive style only served to burnish his reputation as a no-nonsense titan of the industry. 

Whatever you think of the former veteran WPP chief executive, who dramatically quit on Saturday following an allegation of personal misconduct, he was more than willing to "give good quote". 

Campaign resurfaces some of the legendary ad mogul's most memorable contributions in interviews over the years. 

WPP's recruitment strategy and the 'Jesus Christ phenomenon"

Sorrell admitted that WPP does not recruit people very well in a candid interview.

We go for the, forgive me for saying this, 'Jesus Christ phenomenon'.... How many times does somebody say: ‘I need to plug a hole, I need to get some talent, I want to hire this person, bring them in’, and three months later the person is dead … because they didn’t live up to the expectations.

"What planet are you on?"

Sorrell’s retort in 2012 when it was suggested that brands still want to buy from independent agencies. 

"Too much violent egg-smashing"

Sorrell warned against doing integration in the wrong way and went very deep into an egg-breaking metaphor in an interview with Campaign Asia-Pacific.

We have not done enough on integration. Publicis has done it out of panic, and I think we’ve seen a severe deterioration of their brand. While it is true that to make an omelette you have to break eggs, you can do too much violent egg smashing. I guess that happens, particularly if your retirement day is looming and you want to try and get something done before it. It’s your poor successor that will have to deal with it and pick up the eggshells, which have been mixed up with the yolks and the whites of the eggs. You end up with an omelette that has bits of eggshell in it—not particularly tasty. I favour a more gentle route: evolutionary, not revolutionary. But that doesn’t mean that we have a lot of time to get it done. So, in a funny way, I would agree with the objective, but not the execution.

On the failed Omnicom-Publicis Groupe merger

What do you say when two of your rivals decide to gang up on you and create the world's biggest advertising company? Among other things, Sorrell said the codename for the deal was "purple for Publicis and orange for Omnicom", adding:

...when you Google that mixture you get muddy brown or grey – so I don’t know whether that’s a portent of the future as to what’s going to happen with the two companies.

But when the deal failed, the WPP chief took glee in the "turmoil" caused by the uncertainty that the proposed merger created: 

We would have loved for it to have gone on for longer, but there will be further disruptions as a result of this decision. When an event like that happens it raises a lot of questions and causes a lot of turmoil. So far there also hasn't been a great amount of humility being shown by either party.

Finally, Sorrell accused his Publicis Groupe rival Maurice Lévy of not treating Omnicom John Wren with "sufficient respect":

[Levy] just found it very difficult to get over the fact that he blew up on POG [the failed Publicis-Omnicom merger]. I think over time, what has eaten away at him, and continues to do so, is when he loses out. He lost out on Cordiant [acquisition in 2013], he lost out on Y&R [acquisition in 2000], and I think he obsesses about that. I think he should obsess about the reasons why he failed on POG [last year], and the reasons why he failed on POG is because he didn't treat [Omnicom's chief executive] John Wren with sufficient respect. It's as simple as that.

"I think the Big Six will be the Big Four"

In 2016 Sorrell predicted Interpublic Group and Havas would not be independent companies in the long-term. Will he be right? Some analysts believe we could be closer to seeing a WPP break-up now Sorrell is gone.

My bet would be that IPG and Havas will get consolidated. I can’t see that staying as it is because the pressures in the system are just too great. I think the big six will be four. I don’t see IPG and Havas having independent lives long term.

On the web and his notorious behaviour on email

Even at the age of 73, Sorrell remained constantly on call and is well-known for responding to email in a matter of minutes

I absolutely have no regrets about the impact of the web on our industry. Though others might regret the volume of emails they receive from me!

Sorrell's doubts about social media

2011 seems a long time ago now, long before the days when Facebook starting raking in billions of advertising dollars every quarter. Seven years ago Sorrell was not so sure:

I have some fundamental doubts about the ability to monetise social media. If you attempt to interrupt a social interaction with a commercial message then you will run into trouble.

On the threat of consultancies

In a 2016 interview with Campaign Asia-Pacifc, Sorrell played down the threat of mega-consultancies like Accenture, which had just bought Karmarama:

The threat of consultancies has been there since the late ’80s. But certainly the tech-based consultancies or consulting companies that have a high-tech component are becoming more significant. They look at the business differently; they look at the chief technology officers and the chief information officers. Their average transaction size is massive; they look for projects in the billions of dollars, not millions. And their attitude to the business is very different.

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