Q2 will be a bloodbath, Martin Sorrell tells Newsnight viewers

Martin Sorrell, executive chairman of S4 Capital, is feeling pretty pleased with his decision to move into digital. He might not have exited WPP, the agency group he founded, out of choice, but his successor Mark Read is almost certainly having a tougher time than Sorrell is at the moment.

On Newsnight last night, Sorrell talked about how Covid-19 has disturbed the status quo, something that businesses had been reluctant to do in a relatively benign economic environment.

Sorrell said: “Q2 is going to be a bit of a blood bath. We are finally seeing enterprises transform to digital much more strongly because they have nothing to lose now.”

According to his figures, 31% of US households are buying groceries and essentials online for the first time during lockdown, which is opening up a huge new market for the retailers involved. Even the forced experiment with online education is helping pushing technology forward, despite the mixed results.

Sorrell’s view of the future reminds him of the kinds of changes that happened in society after 9/11, when we all had to get used to airport levels of security when going in to office buildings. He said: “There will be heightened levels of security, temperature checks, and apps, and businesses will have to adapt to that – they will have to take measures to keep people safe, because it’s in their interest. If we have another wave of this pandemic it will cause consumers to turn off completely.”

He also suggested that, like other businesses, the property sector will have to become more flexible, and be prepared to review leases more frequently than every three to five years.

The interview also gave a small insight into Sorrell’s working environment, although hard to tell if he was at home or not. He has covered the wood panelled walls with portraits and caricatures of himself.

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