WPP boss Sir Martin Sorrell did intervene to sort out GroupM/Channel 4 airtime row

As we suspected the airtime row between GroupM, which handles big negotiations for WPP’s media agencies including MediaCom, Mindshare and MEC, and publicly-backed UK broadcaster Channel 4 did escalate to involve the higher ranks of WPP. Which means CEO Sir Martin Sorrell.

Sorrell intervened in early January after correctly determining that what started as a row between media agencies and a broadcaster (an annual ritual in the UK over the Christmas and New Year period) could become something worse: a PR disaster for WPP, which would be perceived as throwing its weight around (30 per cent of the global media market). At the same time there was pressure from clients saying, in effect, get our bloody ads on air.

So SMS picked up the phone to GroupM’s negotiations boss Mark Collins and, surely, to C4 CEO David Abraham, and said: sort it.

Which, surprise surprise, they did.

So cue happiness all round? Not quite.

C4 has had its margins squeezed and Sorrell and co. have been served a reminder that mega-media buying clout can be two-edged: once these accumulated billings start to undermine the integrity of respected media operations then other important people – politicians, regulators, even journalists – start to take a keen interest.

As SMS heads off to Davos for the annual confab ‘twixt politicos and business leaders (where he met the future Lady Sorrell of course, together left) he may be reviewing some of the parameters of GroupM.

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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.