Sorrell opens up (a bit) about WPP exit and S4 plans

Another week another salvo in Sir Martin Sorrell’s PR fightback. This time he’s talking to the UK’s Press Association news agency saying of his unceremonious exit from WPP, the company he founded and built up over 33 years: “It’s been a very difficult three months since April 14th and it hasn’t been an easy time for me or my family.

“But the best way is to get back on the horse as quickly as possible. Perhaps build a business that is a little bit more orientated to modern day developments.”

The business, of course, is S4 Capital which has already riled WPP by snatching €300m Dutch digital production company MediaMonks from under its nose, a move that could cost Sorrell up to £20m in outstanding share awards from WPP. Never one to miss an opportunity Sorrell says the sky’s the limit for S4 although it “won’t be size for size’s sake.”

Which is rather an upgrade from the early days when he described S4 as a “peanut.”

Sorrell, who left WPP following allegations of misconduct and misusing company funds – which he strenuously denies – has to walk a fine line with WPP, in public at least, not just because of the potential share awards but because most of his substantial wealth, estimated at between £400-500m, is tied up in WPP shares. So far no evidence has emerged that he’s selling any of them.

In the meantime how’s the PR campaign going? There’s no doubt that Sorrell has deflected much of the focus on an alleged visit to a prostitute in London’s Shepherd Market with a number of high profile public appearances and statements purporting to show him in a more human light. One of the most critical articles about him in the early days of this process came in the FT which portrayed him as a bully who fired his long-term chauffeur unreasonably and made life hell for his team of “executive assistants.”

A defining moment, he is a businessman after all, will be when he makes his choice of CEO for S4 Capital just as it will be for WPP when it decides if one or both of its interim C00s Mark Read and Andrew Scott get the top job or it brings in an outsider. That maybe depends on WPP’s first half 2018 results. Executive chairman Sorrell’s choice for S4 will say a lot about him and the company. His PR advisers will be hoping it’s a woman.

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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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