Sir Martin @BIC Tells All with Vision, Wisdom, and Candor

5/15/2019 Unknown 0 Comments

Sir Martin Sorrell with BIC Professor Michael Farmer and BIC Program Director Nancy R. Tag. 

In our last @BIC event of the year, Sir Martin Sorrell was interviewed by BIC Professor Michael Farmer at The Princeton Club in front of a crowd of BIC students, faculty, industry hot shots, and the press. The engaging conversation detailed his historic, 33 year journey as CEO of WPP where he ushered in the era of the holding company, forever changing the landscape of the marketing communications industry. Offering up some newsworthy tidbits, Sir Martin described the evolving role of the holding company. He also spoke passionately about his current venture S4 Capital.

The next day, The Drum's headline "Sir Martin Sorrell wants nothing to do with 'slow growth' traditional advertising" captured his latest strategy of acquiring advertising and marketing services companies that focus on content creation, first-party data and programmatic, in order to get faster, better and cheaper results in fast-growth digital channels.

“Clients don’t care where the talent comes from,” Sorrell said, adding that clients just want results.

Sir Martin spoke candidly on the future of holding companies from his unique perspective; as former CEO of WPP, he built it from a $1.3 million "shell" company in 1985 into the world's largest advertising and marketing services company with a market value of $20 billion, 170,000 employees, and 3,000 offices in 112 countries. He was the longest-serving chief executive of a FTSE 100 company.  Today, Sir Martin believes that each of the big six holding companies needs to operate as one agency, not as a portfolio of agencies. He told Professor Farmer that they should transform from holding companies to services companies — single agencies with multiple disciplines, he said. Sorrell pointed to McKinsey & Company, though not an agency, as a good example.

“There’s not enough differentiation between the creative agencies,” he said. Plus, he added, the holding companies lose more by having competing brands rather than one brand. Sorrell believes a main obstacle to this is also a paradox: agency CEOs who fight passionately for their companies' distinctive brand value.

Building on a theme developed in Michael Farmer's book, Madison Avenue Manslaughter, Sorrell said: “The crushing weight procurement has had on advertising” had drastically changed the business and margins.

Following the interview, Michael Farmer signed copies of the latest edition of his book which includes a forward by Sir Martin as well as a chapter.  Now in its 3rd printing, the book is a "a call to action for the 21st century breed of 'mad men,' which outlines the industry problems and encourages agencies and their clients to take management actions to keep this disaster at bay. These actions form the basis of a strategic response by agency CEOs as well as corporate chief marketing officers."

BIC is thrilled that Professor Farmer was able to entice Sir Martin to sit across the chair from him for a one-on-one interview at this amazing @BIC lecture. The midtown location of The Princeton Club was generously funded by Michael Farmer who is also a BIC Board member.

ABOUT The @BIC Lecture Series: BIC's signature forum brings thought leaders and industry icons to campus each semester. Past lecturers have included IPG's Michael Roth, Ketchum CEO Barri Rafferty, Iconic Designer Paula Scher, TBWA\Chiat\DayNY CEO Rob Schwartz, GroupM CDO/CEO Rob Norman, Golin CEO+ Matt Neale, Weber Shandwick President Gail Heimann, as well as authors Michael Farmer, Douglas Davis, Marion Salzman, Douglas Rushkoff, and Sandra Stahl.

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