'The single biggest influencer on the agency business': 6 CEOs react to Sorrell's resignation

Agency leaders on the former WPP CEO's impact on marketing.

The marketing world was stunned on Saturday as WPP CEO Martin Sorrell resigned after a company investigation into his personal conduct.

Here’s what PR agency leaders had to say about Sorrell’s effect on the industry.

Brad Staples, CEO, APCO Worldwide
His vision for WPP and his attention to detail in stewarding the company speaks for itself. His drive, energy, and insight will not be replaced easily at WPP nor replicated easily in any other firm. He was a pioneer, industrializing PR: building global scale to match the advertising sector and to meet the needs and expectations of global multinationals.

Bryan Specht, president, Olson Engage
There’s no question Sorrell has been the single biggest influencer, for better or worse, on the agency business in the last 30 years. The real question will be whether history is kind to him or does it blame him for failing to anticipate, and even help avert, the industry’s current existential crisis. I think it’s fair to ask whether he could have better anticipated and influenced the current challenges the industry - especially the larger players - are facing. Could he have set the tone in a more forward-looking way that would’ve benefitted agencies of all shapes, sizes, and specialties, not to mention clients who are looking for meaningful change from our industry? I think he could have, but there will no doubt be a range of opinions for many years to come.

For PR agencies, this is a defining moment. Will the largest holding company see this as a moment to embrace the influence of earned in today’s marketing and communications environment? Or will they continue to undervalue the broader influence of earned and toss PR aside in the name of near-term cost savings, efficiencies, or just fundamental resistance to meaningful change? Time will tell.

Donna Imperato, CEO, Burson Cohn & Wolfe
Martin Sorrell is a brilliant and progressive leader and one of the most caring individuals I’ve ever known. He is tough, but he is fair. I always found my meetings with Martin to be valuable, engaging, and productive. Even when we didn’t agree. Sparring with him was always a fun and challenging experience. He built an impressive and thriving organization, and I am honored to have had the privilege to work for him. Thankfully, the board trusted Mark Read and Andrew Scott to lead us. We are most certainly in excellent hands. But I will sorely miss Martin.

Stuart Smith, global CEO, Ogilvy Public Relations
I've worked for three of [Sorrell’s] agencies over the years and have always admired his immense drive and dry sense of humor. His grasp on the power of PR and why it matters to marketing was always strong. His passion and insights will be missed.

Richard Edelman, president and CEO, Edelman
From a blog post: The industry will miss his always on, eternally present persona. He could be tough on his people and difficult with his competitors. But he has made a singular contribution in achieving recognition for our industry as a business to be reckoned with, a solid investment vehicle, and a unique partner in building brands.

Melissa Waggener Zorkin, founder and CEO, WE Communications
Given all the changes and consolidation at WPP that he has been spearheading, it was a surprise to see him give up control of whatever that future holding company model will become.

My fierce independence has always been opposed to [Sorrell’s] point of view, but I can respect opposing viewpoints regardless. He was a trailblazer for decades, made marketing more important in the world, and built an empire. Without a doubt he kept his eye on increasing shareholder value, and has evolved the marketing services industry many times over. The leaders in our industry must continue to innovate, evolve our craft in a time of swirling disruption, and most of all focus on developing new talent and skills for the future.

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