Boys, boys: Sorrell tries to hijack Read’s WPP again

Another day, another WPP AGM and a release pings in from old boss Sir Martin Sorrell’s spanking new S4 Capital.

WPP AGMs seem positively soporific these days, compared to the good/bad old days of SMS. There isn’t even a shareholder revolt over pay (new CEO Mark Read is paid substantially less than his predecessor although he’s hardly on his uppers.)

WPP first (well it is bigger.)

Read said: “In December we set out our vision for the future of WPP, and we continue to make progress in delivering our plan to return the company to sustainable growth over the next three years. Our financial guidance for the full year is unchanged (organic growth falling by two per cent, margins by one point.)

“We continue our programme of new investment in creativity, technology and our people, and remain absolutely focused on the needs of our clients and the interests of all our shareholders.

“Our new business performance this year has been solid, with GroupM (media agencies) in particular maintaining its successful record in pitches. Notable wins for WPP and our agencies include adidas, Distell, Duracell, GSK, KangShiFu Drinks, L’Oréal, Signet and VodafoneZiggo.

“We believe in providing our people with outstanding, creative environments that enable them to do their best work, and we have accelerated the roll-out of WPP campuses around the world, with Amsterdam, Bucharest, Helsinki, Johannesburg, Madrid, Milan and Mumbai opening this year.

“The transformation of our culture is just as important as the transformation of our business, and to help drive that change we have moved WPP’s own headquarters to campus locations in both London and New York – bringing us closer to our agencies and reflecting the collaborative spirit we want to foster throughout the company.”

The markets seem to like Read’s steady-as-we-go approach, marking up WPP shares. One might congratulate Admiral Read for charting a steady course but wonder if the good ship WPP is heading in a particularly desirable direction. The jury’s still out on the medium term future of WPP and the other ad holding companies.

Meanwhile at go-go S4 Capital (proud owner of MediaMonks and MightyHive, where some shareholder advisers are already moaning about Sorrell’s pay) the company has announced two interesting hires. Scott Spirit, once Sorrell’s assistant it seems and then chief strategy and digital officer, has joined as chief growth officer based in Singapore while another former WPP alumnus Elizabeth Buchanan has joined as a non-executive director.

Executive chairman Sorrell says: “I’m delighted to re-unite with Scott and to welcome him and Elizabeth to the team. I know that Scott’s proven knowledge of global markets will be invaluable as we continue to expand the business technologically and internationally. Elizabeth has rare global experience at the forefront of innovation in the industry and that makes her an obvious choice for a disruptive, purely digital business like S4Capital.”

Spirit says: “I’m looking forward to working with the teams at MediaMonks and MightyHive and building on their impressive early success. It’s a time of great change in the advertising industry and I’m excited to join a company which is so well-positioned, ambitious and optimistic about the future and the solutions we can deliver for our clients.”

Interesting that two ex-WPP types have signed up with Sorrell again, seemingly confounding the notion in some quarters that he was beastly to work for. Among other things, Sorrell is certainly good at making money for those in his inner sanctum.

Is this game of press release head tennis going to continue twixt S4C and WPP? Of course.

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About Stephen Foster

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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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