Brexit vs Brussels: it’s like clients vs agencies, Sorrell says

Martin Sorrell still provides good quote, although his closing session at the IAB Annual Leadership Meeting in Arizona, sounds like it was a long one, even by his standards.

Adweek called it a “sprawling” conversation, but found a few gems in there. Sorrell drew a startling comparison between Brexit and the state of the ad industry, placing clients in the role of Leavers desperate to “Take back control,” and agency bosses as an evil Brussels, doing everything they can to dominate the landscape.

Sorrell said that all the big holding companies had tried to build themselves around clients: “And as you surrounded clients, I think the clients felt even more insecure… they saw the walled gardens going up and they saw the agencies unintentionally surrounding them, so they felt insecure and a lot of the reviews we’ve seen are based on that insecurity – the desire to take back control over the process.”

When you put it like that, who can blame the clients for wanting to free themselves from the agency stranglehold? As Matt Goss so famously said in the BBC’s recent Bros documentary, “Hindsight is the philosophy of fools” – although Sorrell hopes to seize a second chance to get it right with S4 Capital.

Sorrell thinks clients should take some of the blame, though. He said, “It’s understandable that the holding companies should take the heat, but the clients have to change themselves. Their structures must change too, because there’s no point us having coalesced all the content points, and then we’re just feeding it with the same fragmented client as well.”

At least Sorrell seems to have taken Johnny Hornby’s advice and laid off judging the performance of his successors at WPP.

Hornby, whose The & Partnership is 49 per cent owned by WPP, was always loyal to Sorrell while he was CEO of the group, but he seems to have had enough: “Martin needs to mind his own business,” Hornby told the Evening Standard this week, “his constant carping is verging on unacceptable.”

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About Emma Hall

Emma Hall
Emma Hall is the former London Editor of Ad Age, where she covered European marketing advertising, digital and media stories. She has written for newspapers including the Financial Times, The Guardian, The Times and the Telegraph, and was previously a section editor at Campaign. Emma started her career in New York as a researcher for a biography of Keith Richards.