Cannes UnCannned: In Conversation With Sir Martin Sorrell

Cannes UnCannned: In Conversation With Sir Martin Sorrell

Cannes UnCanned is running all this week with top virtual interviews with some of the sharpest media minds on the planet.

And there are few sharper than Sir Martin Sorrell – industry sage, wolf, rabble-rouser and raconteur.

At 75 years of age, Sir Martin’s career would take 12 sets of encyclopedias to document, so B&T won’t even attempt to. And, after all, he’s the man that requires no introduction.

Monday’s Cannes Uncanned chat – hosted by B&T’s editor-in-chief David Hovenden and sponsored by our good friends at Wrike – was swamped with spectators and, as these things do, we sadly ran out of time. That’s why B&T’s picked over the cream of the fireside chat (which you can watch in full again here) and distilled it down in to 10 juicy nuggets below. Something we’re calling the 10 Commandments of Sir Martin. Check it out:

The launch of S4 and the road to Damascus moment

“Times move on! The average life of a company these days is 17 years; so on that average WPP had two lives. When I left WPP (in 2018) there were only three areas of the business that were growing and one was digital advertising content, the other real-party data and the third was programmatic, data and analytics. And that’s what S4 has done, focus on those areas and the rest is history.”

Focus on digital

“Digital is where you need to be. Agencies that understand digital realise where the growth is. In 2019, the media business was worth about globally about $US600 billion and $US245 of that was in digital. Traditional media will be down about 20 per cent.”

S4’s four principals

“We have four principals [at S4]. One, be purely digital. Secondly, focus on data that drives advertising and programmatic. The third is to be faster, better, cheaper. Lastly, we have a unitary structure; we’re not doing fragmented earn-outs that splinter the company. We’re looking for people who buy into our mission which is a new age, new era advertising, marketing and services company.”

The holding companies are under enormous pressure

“The holding companies have become middlemen – or women – for the clients. If clients wanted better payment terms they wouldn’t go to the media owner, they’d go to the in-between which was the holding companies. That created tremendous pressure on the holding companies to survive and it’s been a downward spiral ever since.”

The pitch process is too long

“Pitches now take four, five, six months. By the time you’ve conducted the pitch process and the agency has been chosen, probably the issues facing the client have changed significantly. So it’s a zero sum game. And that’s an antiquated structure that clients no longer want.”

So what do clients want?

“What clients want is a fully integrated structure that the best people are working on the business as effectively as possible. I think clients are far fairer and realistic these days, to be frank.”

The joys of working from home

“It’s a terrible thing to say but we haven’t missed a beat at S4. Our people are digital-only, they’re digital natives. The average age at Media Monks is about 32 and the average age at Mighty Hive is about 25, so working from home was nothing for them. The fact that I can’t travel has actually made me feel far better physically and mentally. If there’s any good news about COVID-19 it’s meant that around unitary structure it feels far more like it’s one firm. We built the business around content and data and programmatic and they’re coming together now in a much faster and far more effective way.”

The “Seven Sisters” of BIG tech

“There’s now seven big tech companies and they include Google, Facebook, Amazon, Alibaba, TikTok and, of course, Apple and Microsoft. Yes, a lot of people are arguing for regulation on these companies. I think it’s inevitable that the stronger will get stronger. But what people forget is that companies like Google and Facebook and Amazon are the engines of small business. Be careful what you wish for, because a lot of these platforms are used by small business and they are the engines of employment. Yes, the regulators will put pressure on these companies because they’re just very big and it’s the way of life that regulators will talk about size and power. All that aside, you have to admire and respect what these companies have done.”

Black Lives Matters

“I’m not a huge fan on specialist or generational agencies but I think with Black Lives Matters there will be initiatives in relation to jobs, procurement initiatives around that. There is going to be huge opportunities for minorities to build businesses now in a much more coherent way. What we’re seeing is a meaningful change and, so often, we’ve seen statements from companies that are meaningless. The fact is that actions are now speaking louder than words and I think there will be opportunities in those areas.”

Creativity in 2020

“If you ignore data then you’re going back to the era of Don Draper. Our industry has been stimulated by the era of data. Lots of people in this industry look back to the era of Don Draper with rose-tinted spectacles and recall these creative days. And there’s still great work today and it’s often done with data. Industries in the US, the UK and the south of France tend to forget that there’s great creativity coming out of places they choose to forget, like Latin America. It’s a combination of great creative talent and very strong technological talent too. You need to look at data as an enabler, it will give you insights that will make creative even more powerful.”

Big thanks once again to our sponsors.







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