Does WPP’s Sorrell rue his Don Draper soundbite?

A soundbite can sometimes bite you back and WPP boss Sir Martin Sorrell is more fond of them than most.

Way back we had his “bath-shaped recession” (bumping along the bottom before a belated recovery) then “grey swans” (his version of known unknowns). Announcing WPP’s 2015 results last week he warned against “Don Draper-ish optimism” in the face of a struggling world economy. This, presumably, meant the typical ad view that the glass is half full (as opposed to half empty), not something the sometimes gloomy Mad Man was particularly prone to, as I recall.

It did the trick by grabbing the headlines but sent out the message that WPP’s horizon wasn’t entirely rosy, which presumably wasn’t Sorrell’s intention.

So yesterday we had a ‘preliminary flash report’ from WPP (the first such) stating that growth in February was “well over three per cent,” hardly an excuse to hang out the bunting one would have thought. WPP’s preferred measure of organic growth is net sales and these came in at 3.3 per cent in 2015.

Considering that WPP’s 2015 revenue was over £12bn (up about six per cent on 2014) over three per cent growth is a lot of money. But neither does it leave much room for error. WPP is so big, in so many countries and so many marcoms disciplines that it more or less tracks the global economy. And the outlook for that isn’t good.

Hence, presumably, the ‘flash report.’ Maybe Sorrell would do better to leave Don Draper out of things next time.

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