Is noisy Sir Martin Sorrell of WPP becoming too attached to his ‘bully pulpit?’

Teddy Roosevelt coined the phrase ‘bully pulpit’ although he didn’t mean bully in its modern sense, bully meant something good for the extrovert US president and big game hunter.

But Teddy realised that the status of president gave you the licence to hector one and all and, sometimes, change things (not something many of his predecessors managed to pull off although Roosevelt did).

And you have to say that WPP CEO Sir Martin Sorrell appears to be carting his own piece of bully furniture around the world, regularly lecturing politicians and others on what they should be doing.

His latest offering is the observation at a Reuters conference that the US budget deficit makes the carnage in the eurozone look like a “sideshow’ and the efforts of American politicians to do something about it are like “kicking a can down the street.”

“Most business people have given up waiting for the political Godots. You just can’t run your business on the basis that something will turn up,” he continued. That’s why business were acting “conservatively,” declining to invest their cash reserves.

Sorrell predicts disaster in 2013 unless the US government (of whichever hue, there’s an election next year) gets its act into gear and slashes spending.

Well he may or may not be correct. It’s worth noting though that Sorrell led the chorus of British captains of industry praising UK coalition government chancellor George Osborne’s swingeing cuts programme at the start of this year. There aren’t too many such supporters now though as the UK economy heads rapidly towards a double-dip recession. Sorrell does not seem to have revised his view, publicly at least.

But the point is that most business leaders prefer to exercise their huge influence behind the scenes, taking the view (publicly at least) that politics should be left to politicians. Sorrell clearly does not take this view, or he just can’t help himself when someone asks him a question.

Which is a bit odd when you consider that WPP, the world’s biggest marcoms company by sales, owns a vast array of PR and lobbying companies, people whose business it is to operate in the shadows, securing their clients’ objectives without their clients needing to go public. WPP has recently snapped up yet another US lobbying firm, Glover Park, to add to others including Public Strategies (now running Hill & Knowlton) and Dewey Square.

If Sorrell was to ask one of these experts what he should do they would doubtless say: pipe down. After all, if all clients were like Sorrell these companies wouldn’t have any business at all.

Does this matter to WPP, its employees and shareholders? Well Sorrell’s regular media appearances and his contentious opinions have certainly combined to raise the profile of WPP and, presumably, its attraction to big companies. It’s a bit like the old adage ‘You never get fired for hiring IBM.’ He’d clearly like the same to be true of WPP and, maybe, sometimes it is.

But US politicians in particular (and one suspects the current White House incumbent is included in this) must be getting a bid fed up with being lectured by a bolshie British adman (WPP is registered in Ireland for tax reasons) who’s able to lord it on the world stage because he used the once strong UK currency to buy some of Madison Avenue’s biggest ad agencies.

And Sorrell’s not alone in this among his compatriots. Eurozone politicians are deeply fed up with being lectured by UK politicians David Cameron and George Osborne about what they should be doing even though the UK is not part of the eurozone and Osborne prefaces each and every bit of advice by underlining that he’s not going to give it any money in its hour of need.

Apart from anything else, all this hectoring just isn’t very British.

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advertising David Cameron George Osborne Hill & Knowlton Sir Martin Sorrell WPP

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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