Martin Sorrell: Power List 2014

CEO, WPP

2014 rank: 1

By Steve Barrett, editor-in-chief, PRWeek

The prospect of an Omnicom-Publicis merger was the biggest story in marketing services in the past   year. But while the abortive $35 billion deal disappointed senior executives who were set for a cash windfall from the so-called "merger of equals," one agency leader was celebrating what he termed "the sweetest of victories." Once again, WPP head honcho Martin Sorrell had called a situation perfectly, from the day the proposed merger was announced.

Of course, he had serious skin in this game in that WPP would have been relegated to number two in the global holding company pecking order if the deal was consummated, so it was natural he would pour scorn on it. But from the start Sorrell’s line was that the deal was being done for "emotional and egotistical" reasons, and that Omnicom’s CEO John Wren had been seduced by the Gallic charm of his Publicis counterpart Maurice Lévy. It was, he said, once the deal finally died, a case of "eyes bigger than tummy."

Sorrell stands apart from his network agency CEO peers in that he is always prepared to put his views out there and have a public opinion on the industry. This passion peppers the colorful commentaries that accompany WPP’s quarterly financial statements, full of patented phrases such as "gray swans," "bath-shaped recessions," and "mini" and "maxi-quadrennials."

And, despite his agencies having a tough couple of years in terms of growth – organic PR and public affairs revenues at WPP were down 1.7% in 2013 – Sorrell still oversees the largest PR holding company portfolio with $1.53 billion in revenues in 2013 across Burson-Marsteller, Ogilvy Public Relations, Cohn & Wolfe, Hill+Knowlton Strategies, RLM Finsbury, and other firms.

His championing of a Team WPP approach, whereby an integrated group spanning WPP agencies involved in several disciplines supplies a full service to clients, has worked extremely well with brands such as Ford and Bank of America. And Sorrell has introduced horizontal integrators, people who run clients across the whole of WPP – including PR and public affairs – to leverage knowledge in a more effective way for clients.

As with any agency business, the focus is on serving clients in the best way possible – something Sorrell noted those caught up in the excitement of the doomed Omnicom-Publicis tie-up temporarily lost sight of in the past 12 months.

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