Exclusive: Digital natives see PR as 'press releases and gin-soaked lunches' – Sorrell

Digital natives view public relations as an “analogue” discipline, associating it with “press releases" and "gin-soaked lunches”, according to S4 Capital boss Sir Martin Sorrell.

Exclusive: Digital natives see PR as 'press releases and gin-soaked lunches' – Sorrell

The former ad industry legend told PRWeek that he would shy away from adding a PR firm to his growing S4C empire because “it wouldn’t fit”. He would, however, be interested in “a social media specialist, particularly in the healthcare sector.” He said healthcare clients were a growing element of S4C’s business.

S4C’s first acquisition, back in July 2018, was Netherlands-based digital content production company MediaMonks. It has since added agencies including programmatic specialist, MightyHive and Silicon Valley’s largest digital agency, Firewood, last year.

“Public relations conjures up images of writing press releases,” he said. “It feels analogue to many of our people. To be relevant today it should conjure up social media communications and integration.”

Sorrell, who founded WPP in 1985 and ran it for 33 years, believes his new firm’s focus on digital content and digital transformation stands it in much better stead during the Covid-19 crisis than traditional advertising or PR agencies.

“The sense is that traditional marketing services firms will see revenue drops of 10 to 15 per cent this year, maybe 15 to 20 per cent in Q2. But we will see double-digit growth this year. Our May numbers were even better than our April ones,” he revealed.

Sorrell says the areas of S4C that are strong at the moment include robotics, animation and virtual events. He believes the C-19 crisis has led to a ‘digital acceleration’ of the business world.

“Since the 2008 recession many firms have existed in a sort of steady state, preferring the status quo," he explained. "But this crisis means that will end. There will no longer be brownie points for business leaders who do not change.”

Shape of things to come

Despite predicting, three months’ ago, that the C-19 related recession would be V- shaped, Sorrell now believes the recovery will be shaped more like a “reverse square root”; a sharp decline, swift initial rebound, but taking a little longer to return to normalised levels of spending.

“You really have to look at it sector-by-sector,” he told PRWeek. “The recovery will be V-shaped for big tech, well, the FANGS [Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, Google]; but it will be probably be U-shaped for packaged goods firms [eg. Unilever, Procter & Gamble] and automotive; and for some sectors, such as travel and hospitality, it could be L-shaped – a semi-permanent change to their businesses.”

Sorrell believes companies and workers will adopt different practices, which involves being more “dispersed”, working from home more, travelling less often, with leaders around the world convening effectively via Zoom conferences.

“At S4C we’ve dropped a lot of our offices' leases. We are in more than forty cities, but we’re reducing to one property per city. Our 2,500 staff have adapted really well to working from home. We’ve saved a lot of time and energy with less travel and commuting.”

And, during this discussion of the digitisation of the marketing services industry with PRWeek, Sorrell couldn’t resist a dig at his former firm WPP, which has just hired Andy Main - formerly the global leader at Delotte Digital - to be the new global CEO of its giant Ogilvy network.

S4 Capital hires former Ogilvy CEO Miles Young

“Andy Main must have improved a lot over the last three years," he said. "His appearance with John Kerr, the then Chairman of Deloitte Digital, at the annual WPP Strategy Meeting three years or so ago didn’t impress, as observations by my successor and others confirmed. I would have preferred Johnny Hornby in the role, at the least he was very enthusiastic about the role,” said Sorrell.

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