Martin Sorrell Will ‘Start Again’ After WPP Oust

Martin Sorrell may be out as CEO of WPP, but he’s not done as an entrepreneur yet.

“I’m going to start again,” he said at the Techonomy conference in New York City on Tuesday.  “I’m not going to go into voluntary, or involuntary, retirement.”

So what’s the next act? Sorrell didn’t say, but he noted his love for the ad industry could play a part.

“I love the industry,” he said. “It was serendipity when I met the Saatchi brothers in 1975. Over the years since then that we’ve operated in the industry, I’ve found it an extremely attractive industry to continue a career in.”

Sorrell also didn’t have much to say about what happened at WPP, where after 33 years he shockingly stepped down as founder and CEO three weeks ago amid an investigation by the board into personal misconduct and misuse of company funds. His comments Tuesday marked his first public appearance since leaving.

But he did call the departure an “extraction.”

“Coming out of being extracted from WPP, I can see much more clearly where the growth pieces are and where there are the more challenged pieces,” he said.

According to Sorrell, the challenge for WPP is to get legacy businesses like J. Walter Thompson, which is more than 100 years old, to bring technology, data and content much closer together for clients.

“There are legacy parts of WPP and there are new wave parts,” he said. “Clearly, the growth of the latter is extremely important. And the traditional parts are sometimes much more difficult to deal with.”

That’s not to say legacy businesses can’t reinvent themselves.

“Everyone who runs holding companies understands this,” he said. “They're not silly about this.  They understand they have to reinvent. How many clients have I heard in the last year or so say to me, ‘What’s the new agency model?’”

As they do, they’ll have to contend with the dominant market forces of Google and Facebook – which, Sorrell said, aren’t a direct threat to agencies, but do need to take responsibility for their extreme power in the media industry.

“The fundamental question is, are they tech companies or media companies?” he said. “I’ve always had the view that Facebook and Google are media companies. With power comes responsibility.”

And as for who has the potential to crack the duopoly, Sorrell still has his sights set on Amazon.

“The one threat to them is Amazon,” he said. “These two areas of advertising and search I think are where Amazon rally will rattle the cage.”

 

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