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WPP’s Sorrell falls into the ‘inequality’ trap

WPP’s Sir Martin Sorrell is an interesting choice to debate inequality (total pay packet over the past two years £48m, estimated net worth £200m, and that’s with the big divorce out of the way). But that’s what he was doing in Davos at a BBC-sponsored debate.

This was prompted, in part, by an Oxfam report saying that the richest one per cent of people in the world would control 50 per cent of the wealth by next year – research that has been challenged by, among others, the Sunday Times’ sound economics editor David Smith. But the rich do seem to be getting richer.

Sir Martin Sorrell, chief executive of WPP?' in DavosAnyway Sorrell (left) took issue with International Monetary Fund head Christine Lagarde who had asserted that inequality was damaging global prosperity, saying that there was “no proof” of any such thing.

He then went on to say that WPP invested £12bn in its 179,000 people around the world – “and I make no apology for that.” The one doesn’t disprove the other, of course. It’s interesting, by the way, that WPP employs many many more people than some of the other marcoms biggies combined. Are some of them on ‘zero hours’ contracts?

Perception, as Sorrell should know, being in the image business, is all in these matters. Any many people think inequality is growing. Life for both companies and individuals in the early 21st Century is not unlike the latter years of the 19th Century: a few companies (Apple, Google, Facebook in the tech cum media sector for example) seem to control the world, not unlike the big US utility monopolies and Standard Oil back then.

Standard Oil was broken up by US president Theodore Roosevelt, hardly a leftie, into the ‘Seven Sisters,’ still giant oil companies but not a monopoly. Sorrell has always been an advocate of ‘biggest is best,’ which goes right back to his days as finance director of Saatchi and Saatchi during its madcap acquisition spree.

The same may, one day, happen to the likes of Apple and Google and, dare one say it, WPP. Is Sorrell wise to allow himself to be depicted as a champion of inequality?

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.
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