Your entire career has been played out in the shadow cast by WPP's Sir Martin Sorrell. For more than 30 years, he determinedly built the biggest and most powerful company in our industry. Now he's gone. Welcome to the post-Sorrell world.
Unless you’re over 50, you’ve only ever worked in this business when Sorrell’s been on the march. Even if you’ve never taken the WPP shilling, he’s shaped your story. It’s hard to over-claim his influence. Now he’s done. Though even as I write that I find I must add: at least he’s done with WPP. Assuming nothing emerges that’s personally humiliating for him, then we’ll hear from Sir Martin Sorrell again.
Let’s be clear: this is a moment of elemental change. "A geological moment," Adam & Eve/DDB’s James Murphy says. "Like a change of geological period, from Jurassic to Cretaceous." Our world is turning.
It’s not just that Sir Martin Sorrell is no longer running WPP. That’s a big part of it, that’s illustratively symptomatic. But it’s more than that. It’s #metoo and the death of the Top 5 emails and the brakes on the wheels of the corporate drinks trolley; it’s the Facebook scandal and the question of personal data; it’s brand safety and ad fraud and the crumbling of the blind belief in digital supremacy; it’s big brands taking marcoms tasks in-house; it’s Accenture and Deloitte with their gunsights levelled on agencies; it’s the merger of Sainsbury’s and Asda; it’s, it’s, it’s. It’s a chance to reset.
We live with perpetual change but the dial has just ticked over to another epoch.
So what will define the next era? How do we want our industry to look and behave from here? Let’s agree some foundational principles now.
There are obvious non-negotiables: gender equality, genuine and broad diversity, an industry culture grounded in fairness and respect. Shouldn’t need saying but it still does. Say it loud, keep saying it.
At its heart, advertising has always been a people business; people buy people yada yada. But we’ve taken our collective eye off this. When business is awarded on international network lines and the people buying and selling are the ones running billion-dollar empires, the people towards the bottom of the giant pyramid start to matter less. They become numbers on a giant spreadsheet. Now a new generation of talent is demanding a diversified workplace, flexible terms, equality, humanity. Let’s get this sorted now, so that we can confidently start to offer up more of what really defines our industry: brilliantly creative people. Not the process, not the machine: the people.
And it’s a new era, so let’s agree here that you don’t need to have the word "creative" embossed on your ebusiness card in order to be it. But how about we go back to properly valuing the job of crafting alchemical creativity. How about we remember that this is the magic bit, the bit that sparks brand fame and bakes in long-term brand saliency, the bit that marketers acknowledge they can’t do themselves, the bit that the management consultancies can’t build, can only acquire (jury’s out on whether it can work). How about we elevate the craft of creativity again above other parts of the advertising offer. How about we work out how to charge a proper price for it and invest more money in making it better. In our new post-Sorrell world, how about it?
Then, let’s stop the self-flagellation before all the joy seeps away. Let’s remind ourselves that this is a dynamic, dazzling industry to work in. The average agency has more interesting, stimulating people under its roof than you’ll find in most other places. Revel in it, celebrate it. In our new post-Sorrell world, let’s really love it. •
Claire Beale is the global editor-in-chief of Campaign.