Sir Martin Sorrell denies pushing for key government comms role

Sir Martin Sorrell has denied that his plans to bring WPP back to the UK are part of a long-term bid to line up his company for a key role within the Government's new marketing set-up.

Sir Martin Sorrell: relocating WPP back to the UK
Sir Martin Sorrell: relocating WPP back to the UK

Sorrell announced yesterday that his global business is likely to be relocating its headquarters to the UK after nearly three years in Dublin, following the Chancellor’s announcement that he would cut the tax paid by UK-based companies on overseas earnings in Wednesday’s Budget.

Earlier this year, Sorrell was involved in a Cabinet Office-appointed roundtable of marketing and media experts to help decide the future of the COI. 

One COI insider said: ‘I would suggest he is trying to position himself as a key operator in the new set-up. Even with budgets reducing to around £150-£200m, this is still sizeable and likely to grow in subsequent years leading up to a general election.’

The insider added that it was likely there would be ‘additional strategic communications work’ such as advising government policy, traditionally the preserve of management consultancies such as McKinsey, Accenture and firms like Capita.

Sorrell rebuffed the suggestion his participation in the review of the COI and subsequent relocation of WPP was an indication he planned to target government contracts.

'Your source is plain wrong,' Sorrell insisted to PRWeek.

Permanent secretary for government comms Matt Tee revealed the findings of his wide-ranging review last Friday, calling for the COI to be replaced with an all-new government body that he has named the Government Communications Centre.

Tee’s review suggests a body of ‘three people who have experience of and high credibility in the comms industry to form a Government Communication Oversight Panel’. Elsewhere in the review, Tee suggests forming a Common Good Comms Council with the private sector, based on the US Ad Council model. Both could have key roles for Sorrell and WPP, the COI insider suggested.

In January, Sorrell sat alongside Channel 4 chief executive David Abraham and Engine Group chairman Robin Wight to help inform Tee’s recommendations, which led to the abolition of the COI.

Fishburn Hedges founder Neil Hedges added that Sorrell’s announcement to bring WPP back to the UK was a ‘brilliant tactic’. 

‘To eclipse the Chancellor as the main story the day after the Budget takes some doing,’ he said.

WPP's UK-based PR agencies include Cohn & Wolfe, Ogilvy PR, Hill & Knowlton, Burson-Marsteller and Finsbury.

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