WPP’s Sorrell assumes new role as creativity advocate

He’s never been agin it of course (WPP began by buying design companies even before becoming a global player by buying creative agencies JWT and Ogilvy & Mather) but WPP’s Sir Martin Sorrell has never figured very high on most people’s lists of creative advocates.

Whereas biggest rival Omnicom is firmly founded on three unabashedly creative agency networks, BBDO, DDB and TBWA, Sorrell has often seemed more at ease with data companies (like his big collection at research giant Kantar) and what he calls ‘media investment,’ media planning and buying through the likes of MediaCom, Mindshare and MEC.

But now, in one of his regular trips to India he’s been expounding on WPP’s role in that country and the world as a whole to India’s Business Standard. And creativity is firmly centre stage although, oddly, he doesn’t actually mention the ‘c’ word.

Q. As an advertising agency, how do you ensure consumer engagement in a scenario where media is fragmented and consumers are easily bored?

A. I don’t think consumers are bored. They are multi-tasking. That means there is a premium on creativity. That for us is a good thing because first of all the whole thing has become much more complex. You walk into a room, you and I will be looking at the television, using the iPad, and may be making phone calls at the same time. So I’ll be wrong to say consumers are bored, but certainly their attention spans are less.

So what you have to do is catch people’s attention in a more engaging way. At the heart of what we do, at the heart of our $16 billion of revenue, at the heart of what the 145,000 people do at WPP, is find engaging ways to connect with the consumers. And those could be through the new markets, through the new media, through consumer insights, understanding how they are changing, their consumption habits, through the application of technology and through data analytics.

Among some of the big marcoms companies and many big clients ‘creativity’ earned rather a bad reputation as the 1980s morphed into the troubled ’90s and beyond, coming to mean feckless self-indulgence, agencies pursuing awards rather than results at their clients’ expense.

So the current buzz word is ‘engagement’ which means roughly the same thing. “Catching people’s attention in a more engaging way’ means being more creative, an interesting mission statement for some at least of WPP’s 145,000 employees who probably thought they were doing something else, like number crunching.

Does this mean we’re going back to the days of creatives as masters of the universe with limitless budgets and long lunches?

Probably not, but it’s a step forward (or back).

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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.