Desmond puts the boot into old chum Sorrell over GroupM’s TV buying power

If there’s one thing stranger than Channel 5 and Express Newspapers owner Richard Desmond (‘Dirty Dickie’ to his enemies because of his ownership of porn TV channels) addressing the august Royal Television Society, it’s the maverick tycoon taking a pot shot at his old chum Sir Martin Sorrell and WPP’s GroupM media empire.

But that’s what he did yesterday, opining thus (after observing that he didn’t have the “testicles” to take on WPP):

“It is very difficult when Group M say to us that if you don’t do this we are going to cut you back by ten per cent or 20 per cent No, I’m not happy about it. I’d love to do something about it. But what’s that programme? (The Man with the 10-Stone Testicles) I haven’t got them.

“I have the highest respect for Martin Sorrell, one of the cleverest people I’ve ever met. He will outsmart me and outsmart the other TV companies and he has the power because he has the accounts. And the reason he has the accounts is he does a great job with his customers, his clients.”

Flattery will get you nowhere Richard.

GroupM negotiates rates with big media owners for all WPP’s media agencies (Maxus, MEC, MediaCom and Mindshare) in the UK and accounts for more than 30 per cent of TV market spend. Last year it pulled its clients from Channel 4 briefly in a row over rates.

And, as Desmond will no doubt be aware, it’s likely to be joined by another biggie if PubliCom, the merger between Omnicom and Publicis Groupe, decides to do the same and negotiate as one for Starcom, Zenith, OMG and PHD.

In any other area of business such concentration would worry the competition authorities. Bodies in the US may yet object to the PubliCom merger because in some areas of the country it will account for about 40 per cent of media spend. Will Desmond’s remarks prompt an investigation in the UK?

One doubts that SMS will be turning up to hear Dickie and his band (Desmond is the drummer) performing in front of a few friends (as he does) any time soon.

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