Arsene Wenger analogy is tough on WPP’s Sorrell but…

I don’t know if WPP’s Sir Martin Sorrell supports a football team but he won’t be best pleased this morning to be described by The Times as turning into Arsene Wenger.

Wenger, for those who don’t follow football, is Arsenal’s embattled manager – suffering two 0-3 defeats in a week by high-flying Manchester City. Wenger, 68, is widely regarded as past it despite a distinguished 22-year reign at the north London club.

Sorrell is 73, with a new young daughter to boot, and rumblings about WPP’s seeming lack of a succession plan are rapidly turning into suggestions he should step down following news of WPP’s poor performance in 2017 (not much positive of anything) and bleak outlook for 2018.

Like most admen of his vintage Sorrell, though initially a number cruncher, was a devout optimist. Something would turn up if you believed it would – hard enough.

And something did turn up for WPP despite its periodic stutters, including many millions for Sorrell (now rather diminished as WPP’s shares languish and the company’s value sinks from over £20bn to around £15bn).

But after years bestriding the ad world like a figurative colossus – offering his view on all and sundry – Sorrell’s twin mantra that advertisers would rediscover the joys of branding (via the world’s biggest marcoms company) and “horizontality” would make sense of his rambling empire through client-focussed teams, now looks rather, well, Arsene Wenger.

Not that anyone else, in the holding companies anyway, seems to have better ideas. Every time there’s a restructuring anywhere it looks more and more like rearranging the deck chairs.

But Publicis Groupe’s Arthur Sadoun is just as energetic as Sorrell and far younger. And he has uncle Maurice Levy still keeping an eye on him from his new perch as chairman of the supervisory board. Havas, though a minnow by comparison, is now owned by Vincent Bolloré’s Vivendi, rather bigger now than WPP.

Then there are the consultants…

The danger for Sorrell is that he’ll be seen as the problem rather than the solution. Just as Arsene Wenger is by many Arsenal fans.

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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.

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