What Makes Martin Sorrell Angry?
|Image: Gireesh GV for Forbes India|
|Martin Sorrell,64, CEO of WPP Global|
Martin Sorrell, 64, CEO of £ 7.5 billion WPP Group, a global marketing and communications Goliath made up of dozens of companies
Competing with or co-opting every trend, technology or competitor that could threaten his global empire
His Big Bets
Expand WPP aggressively through acquisitions, which started back in the late 80’s with the JWT Group and Ogilvy Group
Create innovative structures within WPP to support large global clients, like Enfatico, an integrated agency for Dell
Bees in his Bonnet
The fact that the press and many in the industry are always rooting for the Davids while hoping Goliaths like WPP trip over
That his industry culture is to “nick and steal” talent instead of hiring bright people from colleges and training them
His Vision for India
With a 40% market share, sit pretty, and ramp up the delivery of global production capabilities to WPP companies and clients.
The press loves to hate Martin Sorrell. They hate him for nudging out the creative boutiques that are the antithesis of everything Sorrell stands for in the marketing communication services industry. They accuse him for the decline in the standards of creative work, and for not doing enough to attract high quality talent to the industry. Yet every time Sorrell tries out a new experiment across his vast empire to serve his clients better, the rest of the industry invariably follows suit. Sorrell, head of WPP, the world’s largest communications services group by revenues, met with Forbes India to review some of his recent Big Bets. Excerpts from an exclusive interview:
In December 2007 you won the global mandate to create a new agency from scratch to service Dell. In return for Dell’s commitment to rationalise most of its $4.5 billion marketing and communication business from around 800-850 agencies globally to the new agency, you put in place Enfatico — a new agency that brought creative, media, digital and account management all under the same Profit & Loss. In April this year you were forced to end the Enfatico experiment by folding it back into Y&R Brands. What went wrong?
The prime movers of the Enfatico experiment, the Dell CMO [chief marketing officer, Mark Jarvis] and Casey Jones [Dell’s V-P of Global Marketing] who reported to him, both left Dell. So a lot of the impetus from those two obviously went with them. On the other hand, Erin Nelson, Dell’s current CMO, and others certainly saw the benefits from a dedicated agency. The concept itself, which is an agency tailored to the needs of a specific client, I think is still very relevant and in fact is going to become more relevant. And what clients want is the best resources working on their business, so if you can either from your existing resources or new resources fashion an agency that responds to their specific needs… I mean just think about it logically — it would be better to design an organisation for a client from scratch than to give them something from off the shelf.
Why didn’t Enfatico work then?
Because it’s an extremely difficult thing to do. And the two prime movers behind it left Dell.
So the model is still pretty people dependant then?
The people that took it over after the two prime movers left, Erin and the others, didn’t see the need so sharply to tailor something so individually. They wanted Enfatico to feed off other group resources in a more intense way. So it is part of Y&R Brands, instead of being an isolated brand inside WPP. It probably uses other group resources more aggressively than what was originally intentioned or what people thought was necessary.
But the antipathy that it stirred inside the industry and in the trade press was quite remarkable. The trade press likes Davids, they don’t like Goliaths. Campaign in the UK is a classic example — it is not in Campaign’s interest to have successful big agencies. What they want is successful small agencies, they get their headlines from that. And there’s a natural antipathy to a large group, us or any of the others, coming up with a concept that defeats their purpose or thinking.
We’ve been tracking another of your big bets, the Lenovo marketing hub in Bangalore where O&M has over 100 employees working on global communication projects for the client. But while the number of employees at the hub seems to have gone up slightly, we’re hearing that the hub is losing senior management support from WPP as well as Lenovo. What is the reality?
The first thing I don’t follow at all, there is total support from WPP so that’s nonsense. My understanding is that is again a different concept — it’s a hub doing global activity from one centre. It’s not an easy thing to do. But I think that’s something that will continue to be pursued, and frankly I see more work being done in that way.
You mean at the Lenovo hub, or through such centers in general?
Conceptually. The Lenovo hub and Enfatico are all similar concepts in the sense that what we’re trying to do is provide effectiveness and efficiency in a different way. I do find it extraordinary, the fact that it’s a new concept and a new approach. And everybody’s writing in the trade press all the time about (i) new markets — or they should be… they don’t write about new markets but just focus on their own domestic markets… they have no global antenna at all; (ii) digital — they’re all fascinated by the new things in there, but here you have the established leaders in the industry come along and with different concepts and its regarded as being slightly strange. But there will be more of these things.
It is like if you had told me four-five years ago, “What about these integrated pitches?” When we first did the HSBC pitch, they all laughed, but they all competed and lost out. We’ve had a whole string of them since then, and every single holding company or parent company has moved in that direction. Why? Because clients want a more integrated approach.
Based on your ongoing conversations with clients, especially the big-ticket ones, what do you think is the kind of structure they want for agencies?
It shifts over time. In today’s environment they’re consumed with effectiveness, meaning quality, and efficiency, meaning cost. They are looking for more for less.
You’re an MA in Economics and an MBA from Harvard. In India it’ll be almost impossible for you to hire that sort of a profile into an agency. Why?
Well, that’s not true. We recruit into the Fellowship programme [a three-year rotational programme that recruits graduates or MBAs into WPP before absorbing them into full-time employment in one of the group companies.] We don’t have the resources to cover all the universities. So we cover what we regard as being the leading universities.
Do you cover, for instance, the Indian Institutes of Management?
No, we cover the leading universities and business schools in the UK, US and Western Europe. For the Fellowship programme anybody can apply. The key is as long as the industry rule is “If you need talent, nick it, steal it”, we’ve got a problem. But if the industry rule is that like McKinsey or Goldman Sachs we are going to recruit the best talent, from design schools, art schools, business schools, universities… and spend the time and the money and the investment in training these people. If that changes in our industry, then we will not have a problem.