Is Burning Man Sorrell on the right side of the holding company argument?

Sir Martin Sorrell is a Burning Man it seems, a keen attendee of the Burning Man festival which takes place in the Black Rock desert in Nevada – in the height of summer. They build it up and burn it down at the end.

A Burning Man image appeared on the cover of his new S4 Capital’s prospectus when it launched.

He likes the festival because it’s about “disruption,” it seems. Which is what he says he’s about these days.

Apparently one of the things that grabbed his attention was a complete 747, there for attendees to play with. This year the desert will probably be full of Boeing 737 Max’s.

Sorrell still probably regrets his defenestration from WPP but, actually, he’s not in a bad place. He can lob bricks at the holding companies from a reasonably safe distance and make a case that S4C’s version of “better, faster, cheaper” is the way the market’s moving.

At the moment the holding companies, including WPP, are soldiering on. Events like Publicis Groupe’s CCO Nick Law leaving to join Apple will fuel yet more talk of a ‘brain drain” from adverts, a view it’s hard to argue with.

The ad holding companies are strange in that, as long-established businesses, they’ve been all about acquisitions and not disposals. WPP’s Mark Read is the first boss to reverse the trend, unloading a number of “non-core” businesses – latterly The Farm post-production house for an estimated £50m to Picture House – and hoping to sell research arm Kantar for 60 times that.

So far nobody’s sold an agency network. It will happen sooner or later, with Publicis probably the favourite.

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