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Watch out for albatrosses says Sorrell to WPP’s Read

S4Capital’s Sir Martin Sorrell is 75 on Friday (St Valentine’s Day – happy birthday Martin) but advancing years don’t seem to have mellowed him.

In an Ad age podcast he refers to the way all the holding companies, especially his old creation WPP, are trying to major on “digital transformation,” observing of the so-called legacy issues his successor Mark Read is grappling with “he’s got the albatross around his neck hasn’t he? And it’ll probably choke him.”

This is a new take on albatrosses which, while not always good news, are not known for such assaults. But SMS is a bit like England rugby coach Eddie Jones. In his eagerness for a soundbite he sometimes, um, overdoes it.

He has a point about growth though. He says the much smaller S4C is growing at 40-45 per cent thanks to its digital focus (and him, no doubt) while the big ad holding companies are toiling in the foothills. Publicis recently posted better than expected growth figures of minus 2.3 per cent (better than expected!), Omnicom is reporting later today (it’ll probably deliver about two per cent up) while any growth at all will be seen as a good result for Read.

Omnicom is doing better than its peers (with the exception of the rather smaller Interpublic) in part because it has quietly been disposing of businesses. Read at WPP has made some disposals too – most notably 60 per cent of Kantar to Bain – while Arthur Sadoun at Publicis has said he doesn’t intend to merge any of his agency networks.

Sorrell may be correct in his criticism of WPP and its peers and their prospects in the digital transformation game. Could he be a little more gracious about it?


  1. The albatross around the neck is a metaphor from the Rime of the Ancient Mariner. You should look it up.

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