Wednesday, October 27
There are plenty of reports covering Sir Martin's speech both in HN and MaM, so this is just about those aspects which particularly interested me.
Unlike many I know in the local advertising industry, I've always had a positive view of Sir Martin, and that certainly hasn't changed - even though he reminded me that he doesn't have such a positive view of pitch consultants. I am glad he speaks up so strongly for news journalism. He spoke of his hope that the UK trial by The Times to put its on-line content behind a paywall, succeeds. Why? Because good journalism is vital to democracy, and he doesn't believe that can be provided by ‘citizen journalists'. He took the time to push the case for commitment to Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), and we were all given a booklet outlining how WPP ‘walks the walk' in CSR. He spoke of the importance of recruiting and retaining the best young talent from universities, and admitting that advertising is far behind other companies (such as McKinsey) in successfully doing this He reprimanded the entertaining Kamil Vacek for suggesting that marketing is structurally corrupt; Kamil had suggested that marketing budgets are created so that managers can spend them. "There is corruption" Sir Martin responded "but not at all in the way you mean it".
WPP is the biggest of the global networks. It is powerful and profitable. It inevitably attracts criticism. One such criticism is that WPP (and its rivals) create "silos" and ‘turfs". They told clients that they offered integrated marketing communications. The reality was that clients were asked to have separate contracts with different agencies (e.g. for advertising, BTL, DM, and PR), and each unit had its own client service people. Clients increasingly want one strategic/client service team that will identify the right communications for the task, and then be able to call upon the experts in each discipline - all under one contract.
Sir Martin said that WPP know this, and are moving in that direction. I know that its true, and that they are ahead of Omnicom and Publicis in this. But there is no evidence of it happening yet in smaller markets, and he was asked to talk about smaller markets. So he was a bit prickly when I asked him how practically his vision was being implemented. But in the end, he answered the question, and it is insightful. In a big global company, these things take time. Even he cannot just send out an email and expect it all to happen. He made the point that at day-to-day level it is not difficult to get his people to co-operate across company lines. The difficulty is with the top people; those who have built their careers, given perhaps too much of their lives to Ogilvy or Wunderman. It's more difficult for these guys to suddenly accept that their people should work for each other's clients on a project. That's a fair point. Less fair was his claim that lots of new agencies launch with a claim that they are "media neutral" , but that "it's all BS, and you know it". New agencies such as Nitro showed how "digital' should not be treated as a separate division, but be a normal part of a communications agency's set of recommendations. But that is beside the point. I think Sir Martin agrees with my view of what clients want, and the point is that agencies find it difficult to give it to them.
But all in all, I remain an admirer of both Sir Martin Sorrell and WPP. And possibly the most admirable thing I heard yesterday concerning him, was after the conference, from Martyn Cox of Hullabaloo. Sir Martin had concluded by asking people who had questions to email him. I don't think many people took that too seriously. But afterwards, Martyn Cox told me that he is famous for this. If you, whoever you are, email him with a serious question, he will reply to you, and quite quickly. How many of us can imagine succeeding his role? And how many of us can imagine succeeding and answering all emails?