By Jane Austin in Cannes
Were there any deliberate parallels that were being drawn between Michael Wolff’s description of the ascent of US president Donald Trump and the demise of advertising’s own Sun King Sir Martin Sorrell in the Cannes session hosted by Jeff Goodby? Certainly, given recent events, the more mischievous minds might have thought as much.
Wolff, the author of the sensational Trump biography, Fire & Fury, spoke of how the president’s policy decisions were based on the complete lack of understanding between cause and effect. His spontaneity has resulted in North Korea being threatened with nuclear strikes to just a few months later the unprecedented scenes of Trump embracing Kim Il-Jung as if an old friend.
Sorrell (below) the master dealmaker has been much more careful, at least until recently, if allegations – which have been denied – are shown to be true. However his supposed sacking of his chauffeur, which is said to have eventually led to him leaving WPP, along with sexual allegations, show that he misunderstood or misjudged the effects of his action.
Trump is not the complete buffoon that the press paint him out to be, said Wolff, and you could argue that perhaps Sorrell isn’t (at least anymore) the brilliant business guru that those same papers once hailed him. Yes, there are volcanic explosions of temper from both (cf the FT’s claims from former personal assistants of Farm Street and his description of colleagues as “idiots” or “puddings”), but also of great charm. Trump, said Wollf, is first and foremost a salesman who applies his trade with great charm and who believes that anyone and everyone is susceptible to his immense personal flattery (to get things his own way).
His counterpart, on the other hand, is not known – publically at least – for operating on the same emotional plane. Some of those who have crossed Sorrell in the past however will agree with his quickness to turn to litigation when things aren’t going his way, and Trump is never far away from threatening litigation. But both men love a deal.
Their shared love of celebrity is something that perhaps explains why Sorrell is still booked to appear in Cannes this week, where he is guaranteed to be the centre of attention. For his part Trump’s equally thick hide has seen him endure Comedy Roasts, endless series of The Apprentice and – perhaps the ultimate accolade of all – him run in the biggest reality show going; the race to the presidency. The fact that he seems totally unsuited to it is a by-product of this desire to be in the public eye – to achieve some sort of legacy.
While Sorrell’s downfall has been Jeffrey Archer-esque to watch – and his rehabilitation is in the hands of future clients – both he and the US president will long be remembered. Ultimately whether their contribution has been to the greater good and for the advancement of the human cause, is yet to be seen. Given that at 72 Trump is one-year Sorrell’s junior, it probably won’t be too long before we find out from both.