Sorrell: Google is trying to 'hang us out to dry'

Martin Sorrell, chief executive of WPP Group, has said that while the holding company's "frienemies" regularly change, Google is an "extremely smart" constant in the mix, and its sales team is trying to "hang us out to dry."

LONDON: Martin Sorrell, chief executive of WPP Group, has said that while the holding company’s "frienemies" regularly change, Google is an "extremely smart" constant in the mix, and its sales team is trying to "hang us out to dry."

Talking to News Corp. chief executive Robert Thomson in a wide-ranging discussion at Advertising Week Europe on Monday, the WPP founder noted the continued growth of Google and what he called its lack of transparency in terms of business.

WPP, through its media networks MediaCom, Mindshare, MEC, and Maxus, manages $75 billion in media spending around the world. Sorrell said last year $2.5 billion of that went to Google, up from $2 billion the year before, and "this year, it’ll be $3 billion."

"They are really good at what they do. They have lost some good people, Sheryl Sandberg being a classic example, but they have deep bench strength, and they plan their business," he said. "There are a lot of lessons that we can learn as a business, that we have learned, with our clients in the way that Google deals with us."

Sorrell added that "the problem is we have these lovely conversations at senior levels in nice parts of the world, and then I go to the markets and our people tell me, ‘Martin, you don’t know what you’re talking about. Their sales force has been trying to disintermediate us and hang us out to dry.’ That is the problem."

When it comes to advertising, Google has long been moving in a direction that directly challenges the planning and buying process that forms the bedrock of media agencies.

In the past, Sorrell has discussed increased competition between WPP’s media trading platform Xaxis and Google’s DoubleClick, a battle he said casts WPP as a "$15 billion minnow wrestling with a $167 billion orangutan."

Google chairman Eric Schmidt has been open about his ambition to provide better accountability when it comes to media spending in general. The Internet giant has been developing its "CMO dashboard" to help marketing chiefs and CEOs plan across all traditional media and the Internet.

But Sorrell warned of dangers with the technology company turned media owner bypassing agencies to deal directly with clients, noting, "first of all [Google is] not transparent."

WPP’s leader went on to compare the Google-client relationship to advertisers giving all their money unquestioningly to a media owner like Rupert Murdoch.

"There has to be somebody who has to evaluate the amount [clients] spend and where they spend it," he said.  

Separately, Sorrell went on to warn that businesses were failing to grasp the impact on consumers by the recent revelations about NSA electronic surveillance.

"[People] understate the impact on consumers, and if you take the hacking going on – credit card information, etc. – there are two things going on," he said. "One is privacy and the other is security or secrecy. If you solve the security thing – a hacker-proof system, which may be an oxymoron – if you can solve the safety issue, the privacy issue falls away."

This story originally appeared on the website of MediaWeek.

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