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Why Martin Sorrell is no Bill Gates, and Mark Read is not such a bad boy

Some thoughts from our CEO Kevin Freedman…

Waxing lyrical about how advertising holding companies are dinosaurs in today’s digital first world is Martin Sorrell’s latest publicity stunt. The irony being that he was single handedly responsible for building the biggest, least effective dinosaur in the whole advertising business.

Sorrell left WPP in a parlous state – a sprawling mass of ineffective old time favourites bundled together under his supermarket trolley company. So, he’s the last person on earth that should be shouting from the rafters about how ill formed the business is – he built it. Did he do a good service to his former shareholders, staff and clients by building a monstrosity with no future? Of course not. He’s no Bill Gates. Sorrell should be ashamed of himself for berating Mark Read. Read is simply trying to mend the gaping holes left by Sorrell’s misguided 30 year ego trip.

Over a decade ago, it was crystal clear that the age of the network agencies was over. They’re slow, costly, inefficient and unable to secure the best talent. And Sorrell did little to help WPP evolve. His best attempt was “horizontality” – trying to get different WPP agencies to present a united team front to clients. In reality, these horizontal teams were oversized, excessively costly and rife with politics. You only need to look at the poor shape of Ford’s brand after years of excessive WPP marketing spend.

Martin’s WPP strategy is exactly what you’d expect from a finance man – right out of the Trump playbook in fact. It goes something like this: buy stuff with other people’s money, pile on the debt, don’t integrate it, churn through talent, reward yourself excessively and move on before anyone spots the mess you’ve made. If he is a smart guy – which those who know him say he is – why did he leave WPP in such a bad state? 

Turning to Mark Read, I think he’s making the best of a very bad hand. Deleveraging the group by selling part of Kantar was a good move. Plus, it was brave and wise to smash the famous Mad Men agencies JWT and Y&R into other more digitally focused groups. Nonetheless, the legacy of numerous brands and real estate will take a long time to sort out.

Of course, Read was rightly pilloried about his careless comment regarding WPP’s legion of under 30 year olds who are now in the vanguard, supposedly, of the business. Age is irrelevant – we all know 30 year olds who are close-minded and unfit for the future of advertising (they think like “Boomers”). Equally, we all know 60 and 70 year olds who are driving the industry forward with new ideas and amazing achievements (they think Next Generation marketers). It’s all about how you think and act – the future belongs to the Next Gen marketers and agency teams. 

But if age isn’t a differentiator, how can you tell a Boomer global marketer from a Next Gener? Here’s my ready reckoner: 

Boomer Marketers...

  • Work with holding company and network agencies
  • Don’t collaborate with top talent as it might show them up
  • Fear taking risks
  • Cover their ass when things go wrong
  • Avoid test and learn, they launch and move on
  • Take too long over everything
  • Use a hierarchical global vs local approach
  • Driven by big, global creative idea, not how it will work in local markets
  • Waste money and hide behind procurement teams
  • Play it safe
  • Aim for big corner office at an established legacy brand

Next Gen Marketers...

  • Work with best of breed agencies
  • Yearn to be challenged by top talent teams
  • Feel comfortable with risk taking, they know it’s the only way to succeed
  • Embrace a fast, test and learn approach
  • Are driven by data
  • Learn from everywhere and everyone
  • Identify as Global citizens – they see the world with global lens
  • Take social/digital first perspective, backed up by strong local insights;
  • Build global communities around brands
  • Are smart with money
  • Make decisions fast
  • Are entrepreneurial business and brand builders

If you’re a next generation global marketer looking for help with your next global campaign, get in touch.

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