A kind soul has written to say that the longest tenure of the Campaign
editorship was seven-and-a-half years, but that the shortest was just
one week. Thanks Bernard, very encouraging. Well, in week one, I’m going
to do my damnedest to get previous Campaign editors turning in their
director of corporate communications offices: I’m going to be nice to
Five years ago, Campaign wasn’t kind to Sorrell, but then who was? One
cringe-making moment saw one of our pundits on the radio giving WPP
hours, if not minutes, to live. It said much about the general hysteria
that surrounded Saatchi and Saatchi and WPP at the time.
Sorrell was dismissed contemptuously as ‘a number-cruncher with no
vision’. David Ogilvy’s ‘odious little jerk’ comment was handy for those
who needed an industry icon to support their personal dislike of the
man. And agency managers grumbled about personal remuneration. Measures
such as running down Ogilvy and Mather’s library fuelled the image of a
man who was taking things away from WPP in order to save it, without
putting anything back.
Perhaps there was some truth in this at the time, but Sorrell was, and
still is, seriously under-estimated. Not for his financial acumen and
resilience - these are self-evident. More controversially, he appears
to be one of the few visionaries in the business today. I don’t just
mean because of his deals with Wired or the fact that he has formed
global partnerships with the major telecoms and entertainment giants.
Sorrell has always had the ability to think laterally - look at the
Henley Centre, Metro Video and Millward Brown. What is interesting about
Sorrell today is that, in total contrast to his reputation, he is
constantly making long-term investments, be it publicly (Wired) or
relatively quietly, such as building up WPP’s strategic resource and
funding Cambridge fellowships.
Because he is a genuine global player, Sorrell knows that he must try to
recapture some of the intellectual high ground that the advertising
industry lost in the 80s. He can’t do this simply by buying management
consultancies - advertising’s been there, botched that. Sorrell needs to
win businesses such as IBM’s global account and build them through
developing top-level relationships with clients. And he must create a
unified and truly global media buying force. Finally, Sorrell needs to
either build a third network or lead the industry’s fight-back against
the tyranny of client conflict.
So why is there no Imagination-like company in his portfolio? And what
about buying more publishing and programme production interests of his
own? The only sure thing about Sorrell is that he is on top of these
issues and contemplating or investigating all of the above. If only his
peers had the same ‘lack of vision’.
This article was first published on Campaign